Understanding Constructionism

Seymour Papert defined a concept he called Constructionism [1], [2] in his proposal [3] to the National Science Foundation. This concept can be a very powerful learning model to rethink how kids learn.

The word constructionism is a mnemonic for two aspects of the theory of science education underlying this project. From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product. [4]

Constructionist learning is when learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. Constructionism advocates student-centered, discovery learning where students use information they already know to acquire more knowledge. Students learn through participation in project-based learning where they make connections between different ideas and areas of knowledge facilitated by the teacher through coaching rather than using lectures or step-by-step guidance. Further, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are active in making tangible objects in the real world. In this sense, constructionism is connected with experiential learning and builds on Jean Piaget’s epistemological theory of constructivism. [1]

This can be translated into 3 key ideas as we think of a new way of learning and teaching:

  1. Learners need to reconstruct what they learned … assemble the pieces like building Lego models … and they finally assemble a mental model of how things work in their own mind
  2. This activity of recontructing is more effective if the end product is a tangible real life meaningful object
  3. The role of the teacher is to facilitate that reconstruction and call out the reusable pieces as you go along (Interestingly this is very closely related to the concept of learning thru Chunking and connecting the chunks, Barbara Oakley talks at length in these videos on Chunking [5])


  1. Wikipedia page on Constructionism (Learning Theory)
  2. Situating Constructionism by Seymour Papert and Idit Harel
  3. Educational Psychology Open course by Atlantic International University
  4. Constructionism: A New Opportunity for Elementary Science Education
  5. Learning to Learn: Videos on Chunking

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