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A Constructivist Experiment In Particle Settling And Centrifugation

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

ChE: Innovation in the Laboratory

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.35.1 - 11.35.7



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Paper Authors


Brian Lefebvre Rowan University

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Brian G. Lefebvre is an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at Rowan University. He received his B.Ch.E. from the University of Minnesota in 1997 and his Ph.D. from the University of Delaware in 2002. Prior to joining Rowan, he performed postdoctoral research in protein structural biology at the University of Pennsylvania. His primary teaching interest is integrating biochemical and biomolecular engineering in the engineering curriculum.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Constructivist Experiment in Particle Settling and Centrifugation


Particle settling and centrifugation are related rate-based separation techniques. Rate-based, time-dependent separation processes are often difficult to teach in a traditional lecture format.1 However, simple experiments on particle settling and centrifugation are hard to find.2 To enhance student understanding of these concepts, a particle settling and centrifugation exercise centered on constructivist learning theory was developed.

Constructivism is a philosophical view on how we come to understand or know.3 This philosophical view can be characterized in terms of three primary propositions.3

1. Understanding is in our interactions with the environment. 2. Cognitive conflict or puzzlement is the stimulus for learning and determines the organization and nature of what is learned. 3. Knowledge evolves through social negotiation and through the evaluation of the viability of individual understandings.

Constructivism does not suggest one particular pedagogy; rather, it is a description of how learning happens. To utilize constructivism in the classroom, this philosophical view must be linked to the practice of instruction. Savery and Duffy propose eight instructional principles deriving from constructivism.3

1. Anchor all learning activities to a larger task or problem. 2. Support the learner in developing ownership for the overall problem or task. 3. Design an authentic task. 4. Design the task and the learning environment to reflect the complexity of the environment they should be able to function in at the end of learning. 5. Give the learner ownership of the process used to develop a solution. 6. Design the learning environment to support and challenge the learner’s thinking. 7. Encourage testing ideas against alternative views and alternative contexts. 8. Provide opportunity for and support reflection on both the content learning and the learning process.

Critics contend that the constructivist approach stimulates learning only in concepts in which the students have an existing interest.4 Taken to the extreme, the constructivist view implies the non-transferability of knowledge, and that “knowledge is acquired not by the internalization of some outside given but is constructed from within.”5 Contrast this with an alternative position in learning theory, that “if you want somebody to know something, you teach it to them … if you want somebody to know something and retain it for a long time, then you have them practice it.”6 In addition, Matthews states that “… many, if not most, things in science are beyond the experience of students and the capabilities of school laboratories to demonstrate. The cellular, molecular and atomic realms are out of reach of school laboratories, as is most of the astronomical realm.”7

Lefebvre, B. (2006, June), A Constructivist Experiment In Particle Settling And Centrifugation Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1407

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