Week 3: Essential Question: To what extent should we allow students to figure things out for themselves?

Week Three—Summer 2016

UAS Robotics Initial Post

By Aleta May


In order for teachers to find that just right level / skill or area of focus for students, the teacher needs to be an observer. By closely observing how students approach learning, the teacher goes beyond testing the student in order to find their instructional level in basic academic skills. When students work on a project that involves using tools and materials to construct something, they are “making thinking visible, or making private thinking public” (Libow-Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 43). Students need to be given the chance to struggle, but in a safe environment and on something they are motivated to learn. By a safe environment, I mean an environment where mistakes or errors are opportunities to learn, where students collaborate to help each other and they are taught ways to help each other without taking over and constructive ways to ask for or offer help or advice.

The role of the teacher in a constructivist, learning environment is to “provide guiding questions that stops short of telling students everything they need to know to solve a problem” (Seeley, 2009, p. 2). An example of what not to do is have “students memorize the vocabulary words that go along with the scientific method” (Libow-Martinez & Stager, pp. 44-45) and explicitly teach the scientific method before students have a chance to do what real scientists do—which is to tinker, “make mistakes, re-think, start over, argue, sleep on it, collaborate, and have a cup of tea” (Libow-Martinez & Stager, p. 45). Otherwise, we are communicating to students that to solve problems in science, a set of fixed steps need to be followed and a solution is found.

I like the analogy the authors gave of how it would look to teach music in a step by step how to do music way; teaching music theory before students have hear music or even tried to play it would really only maintain the attention of students who have been taught that their job is to listen, do the worksheets, and to not question the all knowing teacher. Rather, a better way is to use a method called Rainbow Tones (a method written by a college professor in Oregon—Mr. Lyons) where students have a violin, thin tape to mark the frets, one color assigned to each string, and start them out using what the know (i.e., letters of the alphabet and basic counting) for reading music. This way they can experience playing simple music with the back up players standing behind them playing the more advanced parts simultaneously, without first having to read notes on a scale. That comes at a later time, gradually.

two kids playing the violin

single violin player

(see references for image links)

Libow-Martinez & Stager (2013) I think summarize this issue on page 51 when they say that checklists, imposed design cycle diagrams and other prescriptive ways of teaching may actually deter students from taking risks. This is where the art of teaching comes in. We as educators are learning from our experiences and adding to them as well. Yes, it is important to provide such tools, but maybe timing is what is most important; as well as considering whether the whole diagram, checklist, should be given all at once. Maybe the scientific method could be discussed as to whether it should be rearranged, or a part removed for certain experiments.

Since allowing students to figure things out for themselves is actually along a sliding scale according to what they already know, there has been a lot of thought into what this means for different students. I found an article where teacher trainers found themes for constructivist thinking and then put together their lists of metaphors to describe these themes. I chose to share Themes 2, 3, and 10 in this writing, because they really communicated to me in a way I could visualize. By the way, it looks like these teacher trainers were constructing learning about their thinking.

Themes in a constructivist approach to education with metaphors:

Fifty-three teacher trainers came up with 23 metaphors for this theme:

Theme 2: An education that constitutes a whole by constructing new knowledge from prior knowledge. Metaphors: tree, moon, puzzle, going to the mountain, democracy, sieve, factory, sun, daily newspaper, lace making, inspiration, person, construction, chaos, bridge, lego” (Gunay & Yucel-Toy, 2015, p. 57).

Theme 3: An education that guides student to discover and ‘learn how to learn’ (Gunay & Yucel-Toy),” Here is a definition one of the teacher trainers came up with for this theme:

“Every student is a construction worker, every teacher is an engineer. . .Workers constructing buildings’” (Gunay & Yucel-Toy, p. 57).

In summary, the idea is that students learn how to ask questions and are then facilitated to learn about how they learn and how to take these questions towards a discovery of new knowledge.

Here are some metaphors gathered from the group for this theme: “inclination, mirror, independence, garden, fishing, understanding of teaching, banking, puzzle, cultivating a rose from a bush, anchor, flower, sea, birth, ship, sculptor, light, construction, scout camp, sand dune, laboratory, lego, luxury car, origami, game, student-centered education, pilot flame, compass, sponge, theatre, jigsaw puzzle, guide, journey, cognitive process” (Gunay & Yucel-Toy, p. 57).

“Theme 10: An education in which learning process differs from person to person” “(Knowledge) differs from person to person just as one’s taste in art” (Gunay & Yucel-Toy, p. 60).

In the article by Tovia Smith (2014), a very important point was made about how teachers need to “resist the urge to swoop in and offer hints . . . let students squirm a little through an awkward silence” (p. 4). Students do not always need to remain in their comfort zone, or what has been deemed to be their specific area(s) of intelligence. They quoted Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” to point to the fact that learning comes from effort, vs. a “fixed mindset” that says we are born with certain intelligences or talents. When I read this, I thought about how important the role of the environment is on students. There is the school environment in which the student participates almost daily; and there is the home environment where certain talents, leanings, and ways of being are emphasized. The way we do things in one home is not necessarily the way my close friends do things in their home.

For me personally, I grew up in a home where my step dad played guitar and sang in a band and practiced at hom. My parents guided me to join band when I was in elementary school, and orchestra when I was in middle school. Many homes emphasize sports. Some home environments may emphasize gardening, canning, creating, while other homes may emphasize gaming. Though each of our students have natural inclinations, they are strongly influenced by their environments as well. Our job as educators is really to encourage them to step out there and try, encourage, and provide a setting based on what we know about our students that gives them the tools they need to do so.


Gunay, R. Yucel-Toy, B. (2015). Metaphorical analysis of teacher trainer’s conceptualization of constructivist education. International Online Journal of Educational Sciences (IOJES), 7(4), 51-68.

Libow-Martinez, Sylvia (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press

Lyon, L. A. & Blair, R. (2006). Modern Music Methods. Rainbow tones book I. Retrieved on May 31, 2016 at http://www.vipstrings.com/rainbow1.html

Seely, C. I. (2009). Message 17: Constructive struggling, The value of challenging our students. In Faster Isn’t Smarter. Math Solutions. pp. 1-3 http://www.mathsolutions.com/documents/9781935099031_message17.pdf

Smith, T. (2014, 17March). Does teaching kids to get ‘gritty’ help them get ahead?http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/03/17/290089998/does-teaching-kids-to-get-gritty-help-them-get-ahead

References for Images:

Single violin player. Retrieved on 5-31-16 at: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2493/4030545880_6d9f467688_z.jpg?zz=1

Two kids playing violins. Retrieved on 5-31-16 at: http://cache1.asset-cache.net/gc/187900102-kids-playing-violin-gettyimages.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=p8kI9%2fulBbIo21mklIU6PPHm%2fdGO6D2Iwo2rs%2fTiRUUIHriFpKohLg5hAlJLc2yF


1 thought on “Week 3: Essential Question: To what extent should we allow students to figure things out for themselves?

  1. catherinesquared

    I enjoyed your post! A few things stood out to me. First I agree that, not only teachers (we are guilty too), but students also need to learn how to collaborate and help fellow classmates without taking over. I think it’s something we can teach through modeling. Second, I think the quote about the role of the teacher is to, “provide guiding questions that stops short of telling students everything they need to know to solve a problem,” says almost perfectly what I tried to get across in my own post. Thank you for that! Last I agree that we need to let students squirm a bit in awkward silence, that it’s okay to not be in a comfort zone at all times. In fact, I believe just like making mistakes, when we are out of our comfort zone is when learning tends to take place. I have a “Comfort Zone” poster in my class that I refer to as often as needed. I want my kiddos to remember it’s okay to not be comfortable. I tried to attach a pic of the poster, but it didn’t work. Sorry! 😦


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