The Helical Model, Common Core, and the Constructivist Learning Theory

Introduce the topic

Integrate creativity with purpose

Synthesis, theory, new questions

Expand understanding

Deepen understanding







In a constructivist learning environment, students

  • are active formulators of their knowledge

  • learn by doing

  • explore questions and formulate hypotheses

  • connect what they already know with new information

  • distill concepts and theories from data to generate meaning

  • communicate and collaborate, developing socio-emotional skills

Constructivism as a learning theory has been developing for more than a century. Scientific research shows that learning is an active process; the brain literally constructs understanding by building and refining connections among neurons[i]. Research also shows that student engagement in interactive lessons that focus on learning for meaning leads to greater retention and use of information and ideas[ii]. Students engaged in this type of learning gain greater conceptual understanding which is retained and transferred to other meaningful applications. Rote memorization, on the other hand, is easily forgotten. A recent analysis of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMSS) data from seven countries indicates that high-achieving countries devote more instruction to exploring concepts and making connections to solve problems than to memorizing procedures.[iii]


The Helical Model


The Helical Model™, invented by educator and CEO (Chief Education Officer) Gigi Carunungan, is composed of five stages of learning: Play, Explore, Connect, Imagine, and Remember. Lessons begin with a simple, fun activity to build interest and introduce the topic. Students then do hands-on activities and interactive projects that engage them in expanding and applying the subject matter. The process moves from simple to increasingly complex and imaginative concepts and tasks. After learning the core concepts and practices, students design and build an innovative project that addresses a community or world problem. At the end of each module, students review the lessons and collectively highlight key points, formulate questions, and deduce meanings from their experiences and discoveries. Guided by the teacher, students build theories about the topic, using the concepts and processes they have experienced.


Hands-On Activities Guide Learning


This proactive learning environment is designed to address fundamental concerns of what students need to succeed in a competitive, global economy. By nuturing young learners’ abilities, they achieve higher levels of comprehension through reasoning, mastery, and application of subject matter to real-world challenges. Exploratory projects are an integral part of the program–not just an add-on–and are designed to stimulate students to participate in discussions and collectively connect the dots, synthesize, and formulate conclusions and questions. Students discover how communicating key aspects of their experiences is vital to demonstrating understanding. They are asked to present their discoveries and points of views. With the Helical Model, theoretical concepts in the form of hypotheses, social theories, and creative visions are grounded in collective experiences of innovation and creation.


Collective Class Learning Experience


The Helical Model is a learning process guiding the curriculum along the Constructivist framework. Students analyze patterns, failures and successes, concepts, and possibilities in a logical and increasingly complex and challenging flow of activities. The Helical Model also makes possible a multi-modality curricular design that addresses different learning styles. Inspired by Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, the multi-sensory and integrated arts activities allow learners of all styles to actively participate in subject matter exploration, application, and mastery. Students engage in a combination of kinesthetic, visual and verbal lesson strategies. Involvement in guided activities becomes the collective class experience from which students learn to deduce their own theories and concepts in science, social studies, language arts, and mathematics. By the time the teacher presents, for example, a scientific law, a social or economic concept, a mathematical algorithm, or a literary style, students will have the experience, knowledge, and skills to engage in critical conversations about it.


Distilling from Practice and Forming Theories


The Helical Model equips students with a process to understand, analyze, and probe more complex and substantive aspects of a topic. An important aspect of the learning process is documenting observations, formulating conclusions, and analyzing these vis-a-vis alternate theories. Through inquiry and analysis, teachers guide students in analyzing observations of an experiment, experience, reading, and other research data. Information provided by students is organized into categories. Through a collective process of reflection, students are prepared to read and research, connect, and engage in challenging discourse. Higher-order thinking is facilitated when the class is able to expand learning by comparing their experiences and conclusions to the writings of scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, authors, and historians.



[i] Gulpinar, M. (2005). The Principles of Brain-Based Learning and Constructivist Models in Education. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice,299-306. Sousa, 2006.

[ii] Bransford, J., Broan, A., & Cocking, R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Research Council.

[iii] Stigler, J., & Hiebert, J. (2004). Improving Mathematics Teaching, Educational Leadership, 12-16.