Social Construction of Knowledge

The Jasper materials respond to the issue of students’ inability to transfer knowledge between topics, to deconstruct large problems into smaller tasks, and to deal with the often poorly defined nature of real world problems. In my experience, this has certainly been a problem for students. Fundamentals taught in isolation from real world problems often fail to engage students and result in both poor retention of concepts and the inability to exercise them effectively in unique situations.

The current literature I have read from past/present members of the CTVG and analyses of their work suggest that anchoring skills in an authentic and complex problem is a particularly effective way to promote learning and critical thinking skills. Group work on these problems is a central aspect of the creative problem solving process as students construct their understandings of the problems and their possible solutions and then test them out on each other (social construction of knowledge). The Jasper materials deal with these observations through challenging and complex problems in a video format. The video format may help to eliminate some of the accessibility difficulties of students with reading difficulties (universal design for learning).

The Jasper series of videos appear to be underpinned by two main philosophies: Cognitive Apprenticeship (Brown) and Social Constructive Theory (Zygotsky). The apprenticeship philosophy embraces doing the work of a discipline in an authentic way. In the Jasper video “rescue at Boone Meadow” students are introduced to the types of variables pilots would need to consider when solving a situation in which flight might be the best solution. Social cognitive theory is present in the above notes social construction of knowledge during group work. It is also present in certain teaching approaches to the use of Jasper videos whereby teachers help to point students in the right direction without given them an answer or a walk through. This guiding aspect allowing students to achieve at a higher level reflects Zygotsky’s zone of proximal development.

This series of videos represents several unique affordances for a learning technology. It main aide in preventing premature closing. The extension task prompts students to consider other possible dimensions to the task that may exist in the real world. The development of skills in think beyond the textbook case of a problem are essential to developing good critical reasoning and planning. Socially, it offers a look ahead of its time to crowd sourcing. The unique experiences of the group members around similar real world situations may yield unexpected and intriguing solutions.

In terms of conceptions vs. misconceptions, these videos present a situation that must be carefully managed. By interacting with each other students will either ameliorate or exacerbate each others’ misconceptions. Students with firm and correct conceptions may help other students to revise their misconceptions but, conversely, students with strong alternative conceptions more closely rooted in their everyday experience may convince other students to abandon correct conceptions for more viable seeming misconceptions. Frequent perception checks from teacher would be necessary in using these materials.

Unfortunately, I did not run across a lot of efficacy studies in the readings I chose this week. In choosing the design a TELE final project I was more interested in reading about design principals. I am looking forward to seeing some blog posts from the people who may have come across these studies.


  1. Hi Daniel, I would like to comment on your point about misconceptions versus conceptions, as this was my issue in the “Reframing Issues” assignment we just completed. I very much agree with your entire paragraph— when students are left to their own devices, magic can happen, but idiosyncratic ideations can easily take over when left unchecked. Should an educator wish to pursue Jasper methodologies, it is very important, in my opinion, that teachers monitor progress and step-in, when necessary. I do not mean to imply that we should not allow students to hit walls and figure out their own strategies to overcome challenges; however, at some point, “shepherding” may be in order. I fear that some “guide on the side” approaches will equate to some teachers NOT intervening at all. My gut feeling with these non-teacher centred approaches, is that very few educators will actually do them well. (Kudos to anyone who does!) For myself, as a senior high math and physics teacher, a blended approach that combines no more than 20% of inquiry/Jasper/guide-on-side, is all I am prepared to consider. ~Dana

    1. Perhaps some form of exit slip using distractor based question would help to screen for developing misconceptions that could be addressed in the next class?

  2. I agree with Dana’s points about monitoring process so that breakdown does not occur. As I alluded to in one of my other responses, group work is difficult at the best of times and often students do not have much experience managing it. We, as educators need to recognize this and provide them with strategies to manage difficulties that may happen when working in groups. That is not to say that conflict is always a “bad” thing, but not being able to work through conflict can cause frustration and stymie the problem solving and productivity that is the hope of the Jasper Series. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

    1. It really does seem that a lot of the literature around social learning envisions little eutopia’s of cooperative children. Motivated groups of self selecting students can certainly do some great things but unengaged, awkard, or struggling students definitely have trouble with these situations. It woudl be interesting to see some case studies around best practices in education using this sort of method but investigating how to work with students that just plain don’t want to do it or won’t participate in group work.

  3. HI Daniel,
    Some of the studies I read this week did provide empirical data on their work. Vye, Nancy J.; Goldman, Susan R.; Voss, James F.; Hmelo, Cindy; Williams, Susan (1997). Complex mathematical problem solving by individuals and dyads. Cognition and Instruction, 15(4), 435-450 conducted two lab experiments. Experiment one was first year psychology students and 6th grade high acheiving math students. Both groups took part in the same Jasper problem “The Big Splash”. The researchers found that the first year psychology students took more of the information into account when solving the problems, but both groups often only looked at one solution. Both groups seemed to solve the problem and not look for alternatives. They noted the subjects may have felt they had solved the problem asked so why do more? This of course caused a problem when the question was what is the best way to fill the dunk tank.
    The second experiment was a regular group of fifth grade students in pairs. While the fifth graders struggled more with the direct math skills involved they all looked at other solutions, discussed them and were better able to decide which was the best method. The grade fives also had the opportunity to discuss their ideas aloud and were therefore more comfortable presenting and defending their solutions.
    Gersten, R., Chard, D. J., Jayanthi, M., Baker, S. K., Morphy, P., & Flojo, J. (2009). Mathematics instruction for students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis of instructional components. Review of Educational Research, 79(3), 1202-1242.
    looked at the past 5 years, and found two important bodies of research have emerged and helped crystallize mathematics instruction for students with learning disabilities. The first, which is descriptive, focuses on student characteristics that appear to underlie learning disabilities in mathematics. The second, which is experimental and the focus of this meta-analysis, addresses instructional interventions for students with learning disabilities. This second area is explored in the study and results are discussed. One of the most interesting findings was that students with learning disabilities learn, retain and can apply more math knowledge when working in groups and solving problems than working in isolation.

    1. There does seem to be something about the Jasper exercises that does promote “good enough” thinking. If the tank is full or the eagle is saved, that is a win. It seems like there may be room for further extension/analog activities to look for optimal rather than sufficient solutions. Problems like maximizing revenue or reducing the cost of filling the pool so you have more left over for pool toys might facilitate this sort of optimization thinking.

  4. Hi Daniel,

    I thought I would share one of the readings I felt inspired the most by this week:

    Pellegrino, J.W. & Brophy, S. (2008). From cognitive theory to instructional practice: Technology and the evolution of anchored instruction. In Ifenthaler, Pirney-Dunner, & J.M. Spector (Eds.) Understanding models for learning and instruction, New York: Springer Science + Business Media, pp. 277-303.

    In also choosing the TELE final project for this course I found myself finding some direction from this article (I still need to think a lot more about what I want to develop, though!). It also lead to me taking some time this week to reevaluate my current grade 3 math teaching and develop some problem solving activities that I hope will be meaningful and engaging for my students – I am looking to start them next week! I found that this article not only discussed the major design principles that the Jasper series was founded on, but also provides some more insight into the design of anchored instruction. The discussion of integrating “smart tools” was something that also interested me. My first thought was that this must be about Smart boards and other such tools, but noting the date of the article and reading further showed me that smart tools are about encouraging students to develop effective data collecting tools that will help them acquire information and answers to their problems. The skills required for developing these smart tools in itself is powerful and authentic for students I think and brings another element of something they may be able to apply more realistically in their own lives. Thinking to today’s learners and environments, the concept of smart tools further interests me in relation to coding and how students can learn to utilize coding to get a program to complete a cumbersome computational task for them when problem solving.

    Another aspect of this article that interested me, as I talk about in my post this week, is the idea of integrating Legacy into a project. Legacy allows sttudents to see “multiple perspectives and see experts discussing ideas that are relevant to the challenge” (p. 291). While the authors in this article discuss the STAR.Legacy program in particular, I think this idea could be applied in a modern, present-day context as well to not only other softwares and programs, but to classrooms in general. From my experience, my students get very excited when I am able to show them something created by someone they know. I think the concluding thoughts of this article may also align with what you are looking for:

    “It is often noted that technology is really just a tool to support learning and instruction, but it is less often noted or made clear that the nature of the technology tools and their manner of use matter deeply” (p. 298).


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