Constructionism 2010


By Prof. James Clayson / Created 2010-10-15

Constructionism 2010, held August 16 - 21, was one of the largest and most ambitious conferences sponsored by AUP. More than 200 major theorizers, authors, teachers, researchers, performers, technologists and popularizers from the constructionist tradition, many along with accompanying guests, gathered together in the Foyer International d'Accueil de Paris (FIAP) for four days to explore, record and evaluate instances of constructionist education over the last 40 years in order to state lessons for the future. Over 30 countries were represented.

For the first time in this series of conferences, we added a variety of different disciplines that had not previously been included: art, music, dance, the humanities and the social sciences. Up until 2007, the conferences were called EuroLogo and they drew heavily on European work, and privileged the Logo language and mathematical education. This time around, we wanted to open up the group to a variety of kindred spirits: teachers, researchers and performers from all over the world – and of all ages – to concentrate on the philosophy that seems to join us all: Constructionism. The youngest participant was 12; the oldest was 83. Hence the name changed to Constructionism 2010. The next conference, Constructionism 2012, will be held in Greece.

The conference was opened by Celeste Schenck, President of AUP, and James Clayson, the organizer of the conference. This was followed by six plenary sessions that included 15 talks, six panels and two dance performances. A constructionist piano recital and welcome cocktail were held on the first evening. Seventy other papers were given in six parallel sessions during the first two days.  On Wednesday afternoon there was an excursion to Château Chantilly and on Thursday participants visited and enjoyed a gala dinner at the Musée d’Orsay.  On the fifth day of the conference, 16 workshops were mounted at AUP.

In addition, we held a special program for ten Lithuanian teachers that included two days of special workshops, held on Friday and Saturday, conceived especially for them.

The conference was peer reviewed and a full conference proceedings was printed and available for all participants on their arrival.

The support of AUP personnel and students was magnificent. The plenaries and performances were filmed by AUP students and graduates and will soon be available for viewing.

A short description of Constructionism

Constructionism is a philosophy of learning first formulated by Seymour Papert from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Constructionism borrows from constructivism – the idea that we make sense of our world by building our own descriptive and meaning-making models of it. The Constructionist builder uses a variety of media for her constructions: the written and spoken words, poetry, images, diagrams, body movements, music, cardboard and plastics, and notational systems – sometimes mathematical, sometimes iconic – and often computer programs.

Constructionism stresses the importance of the artifacts, or tools, that we build, use and manipulate in our personal construction of knowledge. We might create these tools ourselves using a computer language, like Logo or Scratch, or using software packages, like Photoshop or Flash, or borrow tools from other constructionists’ tool boxes, like digital cameras, algebraic models, Japanese ink and bamboo pens or chunks of limestone and carving tools.

A major constructionist method is to mix media in model construction and to translate from one media, say, a mathematical function, into another media, say, words or diagrams. The movement back and forth can illuminate one media model formulation by seeing it in terms of another way of formulating it. Constructionist models are tools for exploration, never finished, always under construction.

Constructionist education is not unstructured nor is it guided solely by student interests and skills. Rather, the constructionist learning environment is context specific and emphasizes the mastery of ideas, notions and skills. The major goal in any constructionist class is to build up every student’s confidence so that they can make their own sense of difficult material.

James Clayson is Professor Emeritus at AUP.