Active learning

There were a number of key points that the pedagogical theory of Anchored Instruction can be apply to the constructivist theory of learning.  First “the math adventures may offer other opportunities for interdisciplinary connections.” (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt 1992b).To develop a student’s curiosity about the world around us core subjects should not be taught in isolation. Rather they need to be weaved and combined to present the students with the rich tapestry that real world situations present in everyday life. This leads into “Problem complexity- no single answer, real world problems, first adventure is 15 interrelated challenges with multiple solutions.”(Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt 1992b) As in our everyday life answers are not clear cut and require the ability to navigate multiple paths and display flexibility and adaptive strategies when solving problems.


Secondly “Video based presentation-moving images, access poor readers or ESL, dynamic images help students imagine the problem”(Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt 1992b). While the Jasper project seems dated by our present standards the basic premise that delivering knowledge to students and promoting critical thinking skills does not need to be a text based delivery system is innovative.  Visual representation of problems, especially in a dynamic moving form is a multimodal approach that will reach a much broader spectrum in the class.  Digital literacy helps level the playing field between with students who do not excel at traditional modes of delivery. This also connects with the generative learning format of the videos.  Students are asking questions, rather than just answering questions, reflecting on their experience and gaining critical thinking skills in the process.  

Finally from the two other readings I did I believe that collaboration  “Our findings indicate that, in the absence of instruction, some students will interact with their peers in ways that promote exploration of the problem space and its solution.”(Vye, Goldman,Voss,.; Hmelo, Williams, 1997) plays a key role in anchored instruction as well as constructivism.  As does intrinsic motivation through peer interaction “In work with teachers we consistently find that the opportunity to teach their peers is highly motivating and develops a strong learning community among the teachers.”(Biswas, Schwartz & Bransford 2001).  The Jasper series was a truly innovative way of looking at how to apply knowledge, hypothesis, carry out theories and form conclusions using technology as the vehicle.


Biswas, G. Schwartz, D. Bransford, J. & The Teachable Agent Group at Vanderbilt (TAG-V) (2001). Technology support for complex problem solving: From SAD environments to AI. In K.D. Forbus and P.J. Feltovich (Eds.)Smart Machines in Education: The Coming Revolution in Education Technology. AAAI/MIT Press, Menlo, Park, CA. [Retrieved October 22, 2012


Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992b). The Jasper series as an example of anchored instruction: Theory, program, description, and assessment data. Educational Psychologist, 27(3), 291-315.


Vye, Nancy J.; Goldman, Susan R.; Voss, James F.; Hmelo, Cindy; Williams, Susan (1997). Complex mathematical problem solving by individuals and dyads


  1. HI Nathan,

    As someone who also works with Grade 5 students, I am sure that you have experience the common comment of ‘why do we need to know this’. Through anchored instruction this question is limited as students are presented with realistic, visible examples of when the mathematical knowledge needs to be applied; the what, how and why are no longer passive points of reference for students but they are working to problem solve and apply critical thinking skills right away. Students are given the opportunity to extend their thinking because they are motivated and intrigued by the scenarios presented.

    I wonder what this would look like when discussing and reflecting upon growth mindset in the classroom after students participate in a few of these opportunities through anchored instruction. It would be interesting to follow up with these students after a few years.


  2. “To develop a student’s curiosity about the world around us core subjects should not be taught in isolation. Rather they need to be weaved and combined to present the students with the rich tapestry that real world situations present in everyday life.” I completely agree with this statement. Anchored Instruction discussions have definitely made me re-think how I teach and implement content into my science class. This week I decided to use more of a constructionist approach to my unit on force and motion. Today we had a STEM day, using the Launch cycle as a design framework. Students built parachutes and tested their understanding of drag (aerodynamic force). My students were passionate, engaged, and asking relevant questions that a lecture or worksheet could not have provided. Students were making connections and saying that they were going to study this further at home and try to make a more successful parachute. When Cristina mentioned the growth mindset, I was reminded of how the students persevered through the challenges of this task, and are willing to “fail-forward”. I think hands-on, STEM activities, that allow students to use prior knowledge and test what they know, provides a rich learning environment.

  3. Thanks for your post. I have a question in regards to your comment on “core subjects should not be taught in isolation”. I completely agree on this comment, but wonder if this is happening in your teaching environment. Depending on the level at which you teach, there may be some teachers that teach one subject but not another. In order to integrate core subjects, teachers from different subject areas will need to communicate and work together to realize mixed subject projects or instruction. In my own environment, it would be great to come up with anchored instruction/problem based learning question that integrated multiple disciplines that are currently taught independently. One that comes to mind is cardiology and pregnancy. There are many changes that occur to female cardiac physiology as a result of pregnancy. It would be really interesting to have a PBL session on a patient who is pregnant with a cardiac lesion, so students not only learn about maternal physiology but also cardiac lesions at the same time, and the effect of having both simultaneously in one individual. It presents students with a complex issue that will require multiple concepts to be understood.

    1. I am an elementary school teacher, so we have the ability to have control over when and how all our subjects are taught. I have found that for me when I combine subjects together students are much more motivated to learn. I believe this is because rather than isolate knowledge it combines it, peaking interest and curiosity through multiple domains and across curriculums. With technology we have much more opportunity to do this as virtual environments and multi media tools allow expanded exploration of creative means to present and discover across subjects.

  4. As a high school Math and Science Teacher, I find it hard to blend courses together with other teachers. In such large school in the Lower Mainland it is not feasible to integrate in such a way as the 30 students in you class may have 5 or 6 different teachers that you would have to coordinate with. In the end I find myself making interdisciplinary connections as a side-dish to main instruction rather than integrating them the way they ought to. Could there be a better way to manage this at the high school level? A school-wide approach?
    Thank you for you post.

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