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Action Research Plan

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Purpose

This study will take a closer look at the link between technology
and constructivist teaching practices. As technological resources
become more common, teachers are likely to gain more frequent
access to classroom technology such as smart boards, laptops or iPads,
and the internet as learning tools. Ideally, they will be able to use
these resources to ignite student imaginations, improve engagement
and even help us change impressions of learning as a passive behavior.
Increased access to these new tools prompts forward-thinking
educators to consider how they might create a more dynamic
classroom experience. Constructivist learning theory, which focuses on
a students abilities to construct knowledge individually and in groups,
provides a framework within which these technological tools might be
best employed (Lim & Chai, 2008; Barnes, 2008; Soma & Reynold,
2014; Keengwe, Pearson & Smart, 2009; Sultan, Woods & Koo, 2011).
Creating a constructivist learning environment is a difficult
process under normal circumstances. My hope is that technology might
be used as a scaffold, providing support for teachers in implementing
constructivist practices. This study aims to look in greater depth at the
necessity of this support by observing 12th grade English students
working on a semester long constructivist project. Students use
technological resources as a way of gathering information and create a

Action Research Plan

multimedia project that uses fiction and nonfiction to understand and


describe a social issue.

Research Question
How does a long-term constructivist learning project that incorporates
technology effect students' learning experience?

Sub-questions

Are students able to meet the standards set by the rubric?


Does a technologically aided constructivist learning project

improve students ability to articulate their learning?


What are the attitudes of students working on a technological
constructivist learning project towards the project, their
classmates, and the resources they used?

Context
The class on which this study is being performed is located in
Minneapolis. It is made up of thirty-two students, 16 of whom are male
and 16 female. The classrooms demographics1 are described below:
19 white
1 The demographic data in the table is meant to be representative of the 2010
demographic data of the city of Minneapolis according to the United States Census
Bureau. Since I am not currently employed in a school, I theorize that the
demographics of the population at large would be reflected in my future classroom.

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6 African/African American
1 Native American/Alaskan
Native
2 Asian
3 Hispanic/Latino
1 two or more races
3 students with IEPs
4 do not speak English at home
Constructivist Learning and Technology: An Overview
Constructivist learning is most commonly defined as a system where
students construct their own knowledge (Lim & Chai, 2008; Barnes,
2008; Soma & Reynold, 2014; Keengwe, Pearson & Smart, 2009;
Sultan, Woods & Koo, 2011). The goal of constructivist education is for
the learner to develop a greater understanding of his or her own ability
to grasp complex subjects and approach unfamiliar problems. There
are many different ways students can be prompted to construct
knowledge but all methods of constructivist learning stress a social
element. This builds off theories by Vygotsky and Piaget that
knowledge construction takes place through social interaction (as cited
by Ligorio, Cesareni & Schwartz, 2008). Furthermore, the role of the
teacher is shifted in a constructivist classroom, from the main focus to
a learning assistant. Teachers assist their students primarily through
dialogues and modeling higher order thinking skills (Richmond,
Underwood & Jordon, 2007). In a constructivist classroom, students
also feel a greater sense of control over the pedagogy and extend their
critical thinking beyond the scope of the lesson into other areas of a

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subject. Students should feel that they are able to question their
instructors and direct their learning through negotiation because the
teacher is more of a facilitator and guide than an ultimate authority
(Sultan, et al., 2007).
Hubbard (2012) describes one major difficulty in implementing
constructivist practices being that teachers do not provide the correct
amount of support when they assign projects that are meant to
accomplish constructivist goals. Larry Barnes (2008) experienced this
first hand in his high school science classroom. He assigned each of his
students a concept to learn and then teach to the class. While some
students succeeded in creating engaging lessons, many others chose
to read directly from the textbook, an insufficient method of
demonstrating and passing along their understanding. Gordon (as cited
in Hubbard, 2012) describes an almost identical experiment run with
teacher candidates. The students were divided into groups, assigned
several chapters from their textbook and instructed to teach the class.
The students reported that they were incredibly unsatisfied with their
experience in the class and felt as though they had learned nothing.
Gordon (as cited in Hubbard, 2012) claims that the trouble with this
strategy was that the instructor did not provide enough support and
that this indicated a lack of understanding of the constructivist
teaching process. Due to the complicated nature of creating a truly
constructivist environment, teachers may find useful support in

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different technology options. These different technological resources


are best incorporated in the form of a project in which students feel
invested (Buus, 2012; Scheer, Nowski & Meinel; 2012, Barnes, 2008).
In a Problem Based Learning (PBL) project Students will choose
what they want to study from a list of options. They work in groups to
solve complex problems similar to those they will face in the real world.
PBL aims to teach deeper, more organized thinking and has numerous
practical applications. (Ferreira & Trudel, 2012; Yeung, 2010). Ferreira
and Trudel (2012) performed a mixed methods study at a Midwestern
Jesuit high school on three different chemistry classes and found that
PBL created a comfortable classroom space. Students became less
concerned about the correctness of their questions and more
interested in exploring complex ideas as a group and in taking
ownership of their learning. It does not seem unreasonable to expect a
similarly positive outcome in an English class.
Ligorio et al. (2008) provides an example of teaching with a
virtual environment, another way in which technology is used in a
constructivist manner. The researchers observed a group of 10
students and their teachers in Rome, who were part of a broad project
called Euroland. The researchers wanted to determine if the students
analytical skills would be impacted by interacting with classmates in a
virtual space and in person. Students were first required to gather as
much information as they could about Dutch art and artists, come up

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with a system of organization and consult with a class of Dutch


students via email for further insight. Students were asked to gather
information, synthesize it and master the use of a new type of software
to create the wing in a virtual art museum dedicated to Dutch painters.
The researchers concluded that digital technology is a valuable
teaching tool and that the combination of learning new technology,
working with each other and studying new information increases
student engagement. It is my hope that my project will have a similar
outcome, as I draw from PBL and virtual environments to build a
constructivist unit.

Methodology
Project Structure
The qualitative study I am proposing focuses on observing
students work on a project that meets this constructivist criteria. The
project will take place over one semester, approximately three months.
The thirty-two students will be divided into groups of five or six during
the first week of the semester. Students will be provided with a list of
novels and social issues. They will be divided up into groups based on
which novel or accompanying social issue they are interested in
focusing on. By reading a novel and then delving deeper into a theme,
this project aims to helps students further develop their critical
thinking and analytical skills. There will be room for students to make a

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case for pieces of fiction not included on the initial list. Students will
also be expected to set a timeline for each section of the reading and
be completely finished with their novel by the end of the fifth week of
the semester. These elements are meant to help the students
negotiate their learning in partnership with the teacher rather than
merely following instructions. Students will discuss the main points in
each section of their chosen novel and how these relate to the issue
they should be focusing on. For the second half of the semester,
students will research nonfiction sources and design a multimedia
presentation. They will then share what they learned about the social
issue and how it is portrayed or explored in the novel they read. For
extra credit they can research and brainstorm local opportunities for
change and include these in their presentation.
Students will be required to use several different multimedia
components to create a digital map of their topic and eventually
present it. This is modeled after the idea presented by Ligorio et al.
(2008) in creating a virtual art museum. Students will be expected to
synthesize their learning into a new, concise creation. They will use
different sources, beginning with the novel and expanding as they
develop a non-fictionalized understanding of their topic. The map
includes making a video, writing their thoughts, creating a podcast,
putting together a Prezi, updating a Wiki with their ideas and research,
and gathering resources online. Students are encouraged to be

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creative, but cautioned that their presentations are meant to be used


as teaching tools for their classmates and clarity should not be
sacrificed for creativity.
Data Collection and Analysis
During the data collection stages of this project, I will act as a
participant observer. Observational data will be used to explore the
second and third sub-questions I pose, regarding students ability to
articulate learning and their attitudes about different elements of the
project. Data will be collected in the following ways:

Rubric: Project rubric will be examined to see how well each


group was able to meet the standards defined. Especially

impressive work will be noted.


Classwork: The project itself, as well as the wikis students will
prepare during their reading and research, will be examined to

see how students present their learning.


Open Ended Surveys: Students will share their thoughts on the
process of their learning and the project in three brief, openended surveys. These are intended to capture subtle shifts and

students attitudes about their learning.


Post Presentation Testimonial: After each group presents I
will also have them write a few paragraphs of reflection on what

they felt they did well and what they wish they had done better.
Classroom Camera: I will have a camera focused on the room
at large during lessons in order to capture observations that I
might miss while working closely with one particular group or

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another. The camera will function as a stand in for a non

participant observer.
Confessional Camera: I will set up a small nook with a camera
at the back of the room and have students talk about their
feelings or concerns related to the project. Each group will be
assigned a week where they are encouraged to interact with the
camera. This will be done in the hopes of capturing more
tentative student voices and being able to observe body

language and tone, unlike in the open ended surveys.


Observation/Interaction: I will sit with each small group once
every week or two during work time. I will help facilitate
discussion, and make observations on student attitudes and

group dynamics.
Debriefing Interview: At the end of the project I will conduct a
10-15 minute debriefing interview with each group to gain a
sense of their final knowledge product and their collective
experience.

Data collection will take place over the course of twelve weeks,
students will spend approximately half of their class time working on
the project, two to three class periods a week. All the observational
and digital data will be coded after the fact. Once the information is
coded, I will determine which categories would best describe the
themes in my observations. The categories I expect to look at primarily
are:

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A.) Examples of students articulating their learning


B.) How students feel about their experiences asking questions
C.)How students feel about their experiences working with
classmates
D.)How students feel about their experiences working with
technology
It is likely that I will discover emergent trends that I did not anticipate
in considering these categories. I am open to devising new categories
as the unexpected information must be taken into account in order to
accurately describe existing patterns. Once items are categorized, I will
summarize trends. In summarizing my findings. I will include emic data
from student interviews, post presentation testimonials and openended surveys in my interpretation. Additional non-observational data
will be gathered using the project rubric and compared with the
observations, interviews and surveys to examine how the students
ability to be successful in terms of their grade compares to their
learning experience.

Discussion
I believe that this study is well conceived but a critical
examination is necessary. One of the dangers mentioned in my
research above is a tendency for teachers to believe they are creating
a constructivist space when they actually misunderstand the concept
(Barnes, 2008; Hubbard, 2012). In designing the project, I made sure to
take into account the major elements of constructivist learning, and

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very consciously incorporate them into the structure to avoid making


this mistake. Students are required to analyze their knowledge and
take it beyond the original context, they are able to negotiate with the
teacher to some extent in terms of their learning, and they are working
in groups to develop their understanding. The constructivist aspects of
the project could be even more strongly developed if I were able to
incorporate more inter-subjectivity. In replicating this study, it would
be worthwhile to partner with colleagues teaching social studies or
science to allow students more work time and a greater sense of the
over arching importance of this type of project.
The proposed time spent gathering data and variety of methods
used will allow for triangulation between different observational data
sources and between non-observational and observational. This serves
as another strength of the study. If students spend half their time in the
class developing their ideas over the course of a semester, I should be
able to document gradual changes in their attitudes about learning and
working together. I hope to see a growing confidence in their ability to
engage with each other and myself intellectually, ask questions about
the novels they are reading and the issues they are studying. While
students may find it tedious to provide regular data on their learning,
using a number of methods will allow me to be more confident in the
reliability of my results.

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One major concern in implementing the project is related to the


teacher-student ratio. Several of the studies I looked at tended to have
a teacher to student ratio of five or ten students to one teacher (Ligorio
et al., 2008; Scheer et al., 2012, Yeung, 2010). I can see how this would
be a major benefit to the projects. Giving students a chance to discuss
their ideas with a teacher on a daily basis is a more streamlined way to
help them refine their focus. While constructivist learning is meant to
expand student curiosity, young learners must develop the ability to
determine which information is most important in focusing on a topic
and which would be better explored at another time. I hope that the
scaffolding I provide students will help them stay on course and that
the time I spend facilitating discussion with each group will allow me to
provide enough guidance. However, I know that the corrections I am
attempting to make are unlikely to fully account for the added benefit
that would come from working with two additional teachers.
Another potential source of error may result from problems truly
utilizing the technology. I am far from an expert in any of the tools I am
instructing students to use to create their virtual map. Ligorio et al.
(2008) noted that they observed that teachers lack of expertise in
using the Euroland software actually allowed for a more equal
exchange between student and teacher. For this reason, I do not think
my lack of expertise is any reason to put off implementing this action
plan, but it is a source of concern. Particularly, issues with these tools

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may occur that my students and I are not able to resolve. Such issues
may cause students feel negatively about the project, which would
affect the data gathered and conclusions I can make. If such
technological impediments do arise, I will need to make reasonable
adjustments to my rubric and consider these shortcomings in any
future replications of the study.

Anticipated Actions/Changes
I suspect that it will be beneficial for this project to be replicated
and expanded in future years. It would be exciting to be able to make it
a larger, inter-subjective unit. This would allow students to practice
their critical thinking and problem solving skills across several subject
areas. It might also be interesting to expand the timeline for the
project and in the extra time have students focus on creating local
social change initiatives related to the issues they studied. Depending
on what the students propose, perhaps some of these initiatives could
be carried out. Furthermore, if older students are successful in
completing a constructivist learning project, it would be interesting and
beneficial to replicate the study with younger groups. Working with a
younger group of students would likely require more allotted class
time, scaffolding and teacher support, but it would be worthwhile to
give these students an opportunity to engage in a constructivist
classroom.

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Further research on this topic might consider looking at the


differences between younger and older students experiences in
completing constructivist projects. It would also be interesting to take a
broader and more quantitative approach to the study by replicating it
district wide and focusing on whether students with more access to
classroom technology have more positive thoughts about the
constructivist process. Studies that have focused on constructivist
learning have shown that it often helps students develop positive
attitudes about their ability to learn (Rosen & Salomon, 2007). With
this in mind, it seems that it would be in the best interest to our
students to adapt a style of teaching that promotes this type of
learning. Taking advantage of the growing availability of technological
resources provides teachers with more options for designing creative,
constructivist curriculum to help engage and excite their students. This
action plan is meant to add to that body of research on a local level
and show how constructivist learning can work in my own classroom.

Resources
Barnes, L. J. (2008). Lecture-free high school biology using an audience
response system. American Biology Teacher, 70(9-), 531-536.
Retrieved from http://ezproxy.stthomas.edu/login?
url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?

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direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ823313&site=ehost-live;
http://www.nabt.org
Buus, L. (2012). Scaffolding teachers integrate social media into a
problem-based learning approach? Electronic Journal of e-Learning,
10(1), 13-22. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.stthomas.edu/login?
url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?
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Ferreira, M. M., & Trudel, A. R. (2012). The impact of problem based
learning (PBL) on student attitudes toward science, problem-solving
skills, and sense of community in the classroom. Journal of
Classroom Interaction, 47(1), 23-30. Retrieved from
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url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?
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http://www.jciuh.org/issues/vol47no1.htm
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Keengwe, J., Pearson, D., & Smart, K. (2009). Technology integration:
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a distributed cognition system. Journal of Research on Technology
in Education, 40(3), 339-357. Retrieved from
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http://www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Publications/JRTE/Issue
s/Volume_401/Number3Spring2008/Collaborative_Virtual_Environm
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Lim, C. P., & Chai, C. S. (2008). Teachers' pedagogical beliefs and their
planning and conduct of computer-mediated classroom lessons.
British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 807-828. Retrieved

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Rosen, Y., & Salomon, G. (2007). The differential learning achievements
of constructivist technology-intensive learning environments as
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constructivist learning into action: Design thinking in education.
Design and Technology Education, 17(3), 8-19. Retrieved from
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url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?
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Sultan, W. H., Woods, P. C., & Koo, A. (2011). A constructivist approach
for digital learning: Malaysian schools case study. Educational
Technology & Society, 14(4), 149-163. Retrieved from
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direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ963287&site=ehost-live;
http://www.ifets.info/journals/14_4/14.pdf

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U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). Minnesota: 2010: Population and housing unit counts.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics
Administration, U.S. Census Bureau.

Yeung, S. (2010). Problem-based learning for promoting student


learning in high school geography. Journal of Geography, 109(5),
190-200. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.stthomas.edu/login?
url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?
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http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?
genre=article&id=doi:10.1080/00221341.2010.501112

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