Constructive Controversies


Constructive Controversy, is a cooperative learning procedure designed to create intellectual conflict and deepen understanding of complex issues. Unlike traditional debates, however, where the goal is to ‘win’ the argument, the goal of our “Constructive Controversy” (and in science in general) is (a) to ensure a full, and critical understanding of both sides of the issue, and (b) to synthesize respective positions in a consensus statement that includes only the best and most valid arguments from all sides of an issue.

During these first two weeks, we will participate in three Constructive Controversies, at the end of which you will work with a partner to write a brief (1/2 – 1-page, or 125 – 250 word) consensus statement reporting your final position on both sides of the controversy. The final consensus statements will then be posted here.

Should schools embrace technology?

Aric & Bret

Our position is that we should embrace technology in the classroom provided there is thoughtful implementation and regulation.

We think technology should be present because classroom learning will be enhanced through simulation, modeling, and increase global awareness in ways that would otherwise be unavailable.

We think technology should be carefully regulated because children are at different developmental stages in the formation of cognition, ethical judgment, and social interaction.

In conclusion, we do think it is worth embracing technology in the classroom, but ultimately, we want to end with a final clearance question: Is this safe?

Colin & Anna

We support the theory of technology integration in schools. In a utopian way, we believe that technology can provide equity, improve student access to more complex models and content, and democratize information transfer. Our reservation comes in implementation, so we support embracing technology in schools provided that technology chosen is developmentally appropriate, teachers are trained in how to implement technologically-based instruction, and that training and material resources are available equally across districts.

Shawn & Phil

Our position is that schools should integrate technology with an eye towards the constraints that in our view would lead to ineffective technology use. We believe that technology is essential for enriching the classroom experience, allowing students to build a more universal view of the world, and to create an equitable learning environment. The constraints of proper instructor training, a mindful use of financial resources, and the desire to insure that students are balancing technology use with a humanistic approach to their world and interpersonal interactions are essential in consideration of the degree which we might embrace technology in the classroom. Ultimately, our view is that technology can be transformative when applied in a well-constructed way and is worth the inherent risks described by the constraints above.

Jessica & Ying

Our position is school should gradually integrate technology that is aligned with the pedagogical needs as informed by bodies of research and practitioner experience. First, we should take into consideration of students’ cognitive and social needs at different developmental stages, drawing on both the need for face-to-face developmental interaction and need to develop understanding of appropriate uses and interactions in technological and virtual spaces. Second, we should take the features of different subjects into account. In other words, use of technology can improve students’ motivation, understanding through visual representation, communication skills, etc., but it can also hinder understanding or growth and cause distractions. Third, when technology is introduced, practitioners need to be careful in planning the behavior management aspects of technology use. This involves considerations like how to effectively transition, appropriate social uses of technology, and appropriate physical use of devices. Another related question we need to ask is are there alternative ways of imparting the same knowledge through less expensive and potentially less distracting means? The potential benefits of using technology in schools clearly argue that schools should embrace technology in some ways, but that these uses need to be carefully planned and evaluated over time.

Paul & Eileen

Our position is that technology and computers should be incorporated in today’s schools through a critical lens of cognitive and social readiness. At early ages, students should have exposure to technology tools that enhance communication, encourage collaboration, and help students develop interpersonal skills and behaviors. A primary outcome of technology use in intermediate classrooms should be the development of appropriate behavior in online social contexts. At higher levels, technology has the potential to provide students with access to an ever-changing body of knowledge and events and can be harnessed in the development of critical thinking skills. Across grade levels, technology tools should encourage natural collaboration, curiosity, and human interaction. Justification should be made for how each use of technology enhances learning in ways that would not occur without its use.

Is Rose’s research unduly influenced by his own subjectivity?

Phil & Jessica

Our position is that Rose has demonstrated bias, perhaps with purpose, and that his overall position could be strengthened. With regard to his mother and uncle, for whom he has written two specific chapters, we feel that this portion of his argument could be removed or re-positioned simply to clarify his bias. This would allow him to focus his research on supporting the argument with evidence from individuals that he is clearly studying with less bias than a family member. We also feel that his argument would be strengthened if he had more clearly made the case in support of the western conception of intelligence.

Rose’s strengths come from his connection to the worlds that he explores. Coming from this question with an insider perspective, rather than an outside-in perspective provides several benefits: 1) he may observe phenomenon that go unnoticed by someone unfamiliar with the culture and context and 2) people may feel stronger affinity and a greater willingness to share their perceptions and experiences.

Aric Gaunt, Josh

It is important to consider how we measure things that we don’t know exist. Not all research verifies- some discovers. Conservative stance may inhibit researchers from expanding previous/current conceptual understandings. There needs to a more systematic presentation of data, otherwise, interpretation and advances in our understanding are not possible. We believe that Rose, while perhaps providing an authentic perspective, needs to stay cautious of the existence of confirmation and selection biases.

Paul & Ying

Our position is that Rose’s subjectivity strengthens his research and positions him to provide a detailed account that goes beyond traditional perceptions of labor-related work. Rose states that this topic has not been studied to great extent; his approach provides a broad and full account for human activities that may be compromised by reductive analysis.

Rose’s personal experience provided him with a lens through which to view the types of knowledge and intelligence needed for the kinds of work he observed. His history and lived experience enabled him to develop the research questions that an outsider would not have the background to ask. Through his experience, Rose drew on personal history and understanding of work contexts to support his exploration. However, Rose approaches this issue with the intention to advocate for a greater appreciation for the intelligence of workers; this may affect what he chooses to ask, how he reports responses, and the work he chooses to highlight.

The study design Rose uses to explore his research questions elicits a level of authenticity that would not have been achieved through experimental control. However, we should acknowledge that there may be additional ways to explore Rose’s questions that might provide support for his conclusions and apply to a broader population.

Anna & Bret

Rose is trying to present an academic argument (the book’s cover categorized it as sociology and was endorsed by Howard Zinn); he uses academic language to describe his work, but the substance of the book reads more like popular non-fiction or an extended editorial. His style of prose leads the reader to conflate the beauty of his words with an assumed beauty of manual labor. He does not acknowledge the real pain and hardship of these workers and glorifies their intelligence. A more convincing text would include a more complete and impartial picture of labor which made some attempt to systematically codify or explain the special classes of intelligence that blue collar workers have. Rose should absolutely still take advantage of his insider status to ask the right questions, interview the right people, and even to advocate with passion. However, he should take a more disciplined ethnographic approach in order to present a more compelling argument if he is going to claim his work is research-based and not simply a compelling homage.

Eileen and Shawn

While to some, Rose may seem to be “unduly” in his subjectivity, he ultimately provided a measured qualitative account. Our argument rests on a few pillars:

1. It is clear that he does a lengthy qualitative study; this work took six years, and in that time, he had to do significant qualitative observation, interviewing, and ethnography that is predicted on previous research. On balance, he is not “unduly” because of one or two familial examples.

2. It was important for him to admit his clear bias and he leans into it as oppose to dismiss it. He could not have done that work without being empathetic and having an intricate connection to the material; in creating a work for a wider audience. You can see his thinking process clearly from this experience with his mother, showing how in depth he can look at the totality of the experience.

3. This is a popular work and not made strictly for an academic world; that target is simply different…criticism about his prose is missing the point of the book…

Should schools adopt a constructivist approach?

Bret and Jessica

Our position is that schools should adopt a constructivist approach to education in a careful, planned, and balanced approach. More research has been done to demonstrate positive effects of constructivist approaches, but successful approaches have specific constraints and considerations that often are not translated into practice. Therefore, practitioners must be trained to deliver activities within the Zone of Proximal Development, in order to help students build deeper connections and understanding through experience. These experiences should be framed within expert teacher facilitation, which may include some teacher-directed activities to enhance background knowledge, guided practice opportunities, and careful management and training in behavioral and social expectations for exploratory experiences. The teacher should also be carefully trained to monitor and provide guidance to students as needed during experiential activities based on students’ level of prior knowledge and understanding.

Aric & Paul

Constructivism may look different in classroom settings depending on student age, subject matter, and intended learning outcomes. It is important to consider the individuality of learners’ constructions of knowledges and research further methods of finding structure within constructivism’s “unstructured” learning environments. Enacting constructivist ideals in classrooms provides students opportunities to develop knowledge in a more authentic context than traditional classrooms. Constructivist perspectives might benefit from considering guided discovery and clearer learning goals in order to facilitate learning conducive to intended learning outcomes. It is also important that we revisit what comprises achievement and consider measures that take exploratory knowledge acquisition into consideration.

Ying & Phil

Our position is that constructivism is a useful, but delicate tool for the modern classroom. It is important for students to develop a strong basis from which to be able to construct their own knowledge, and we have concerns that these essential core concepts need to be structured effectively to encourage student growth at early ages. However, once we have established this basis, there are a significant number of advantages to creating constructivist learning experiences. Students can develop new schemas and their abilities to find, analyze and solve new problems. A more mature learner will also appreciate and therefore more effectively take advantage of this opportunity for learning. A final concern is how an educator will develop the competencies needed to structure strong constructivist learning experiences and develop assessments that are consistent with the kinds of knowledge developed in these more open learning environments. To sum up, constructivism encourages students’ agency in learning and social skills, but needs proper structure and assessment.

Shawn and Anna

There are logistical issues of teacher training, time, funding, and political will that currently prevent total implementation of constructivist teaching in a productive and constructive way. In countries like Finland they have made a conscious decision to view education more holistically and in countries like Japan teachers receive lots of time to focus on collaboration and professional development where they focus on what they know of their learning. This is not the case in the United States. In practice, it isn’t practical to take a pure constructivist approach because of political constraints but to the extent to which teachers are able to provide thoughtful scaffolding and support for relevant and deep learning we should be letting kids explore knowledge at their own pace. There are also logistical problems with large classrooms that force teachers to prioritize quiet and order over exploration and the productive, messy, sometimes noisy business of learning. Our current model of education is a factory-based concept and we assume that students should all progress more or less at the same rate. If students were able to progress at a rate that was appropriate to their development we could foster a depth and problem solving ability (soft skills) that are increasingly important.

Josh and Eileen!

The facts are still important. Students do need to have a foundation of core disciplines. But, constructivism can coexist with traditional curriculum by providing students with an opportunity to reconstruct theories and ideas with carefully scaffolded opportunities. These types of opportunities provide students with memorable experiences (resolving conflicts in understanding) and the capability to learn in real world (not only school) contexts.