Knowledge construction in the real world

Traditionally, educational professionals believed that knowledge in math or science must be constructed by first learning the simple mechanical and fact-based aspects before being able to integrate these fundamentals into real-world problems. While it may make sense to construct a building by first focusing on fundamental pieces such as a foundation and framing, this method may be too simplified to apply to students who are embodied in a world with a plethora of problems to be solved, some of which they may never have experienced before. Carraher et al (1985) looked at math skills in the practical world and discovered that youth with very little formal education developed successful strategies to deal with real life mathematical problems in a market. The youth could successfully solve 95% of problems in the informal market setting while only being able to successfully solve 73% of the problems given to them in a formal test setting. “It seems quite possible that children might have difficulty with routines learned at school and yet at the same time be able to solve the mathematical problems for which these routines were devised in other more effective ways” (Carraher et al, 1985). Thus, as educators it can be useful to use real-life problems in the world to help students gain more applicable and effective knowledge.


Two ways in which students can use real-life experiences to guide their learning is through networked communities such as GLOBE and Exploratorium. In the GLOBE project, scientists are linked with teachers and students to gather data from around the world (Butler & MacGregor, 2003). Students are taught data collection techniques and can visually display their and other’s collected data to analyse and interpret. An example of such is looking at the carbon cycle in different biomes; students collect topsoil data from their region and compare it with data from other students in different parts of the world. With this program, students can directly participate in global knowledge generation on a global scale. Further, Exploratorium presents a virtual museum which allows students to interact and learn with interactive tools, hands-on activities, apps, blogs, and videos to learn about science. “Many innovative educational applications, tools, and experiences are being specifically designed to capture the interests and attention of learners to support everyday learning” (Hsi, 2008). Such tools allow students to generate knowledge in and out of the classroom as the line between formal and informal education becomes blurred. The goal from informal learning is to create a passion for life-long learning in students. If students can self-motivate, knowledge construction can become limitless.



Butler, D.M., & MacGregor, I.D. (2003). GLOBE: Science and education. Journal of Geoscience Education, 51(1), 9-20.

Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. British journal of developmental psychology, 3(1), 21-29.

Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 20(9), 891-899.

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