Cognitive Constructivism & Social Constructivism:
Anchored Instruction

The anchored instruction approach is an attempt to help students become more actively engaged in learning by situating or anchoring instruction around an interesting topic. The learning environments are designed to provoke the kinds of thoughtful engagement that helps students develop effective thinking skills and attitudes that contribute to effective problem solving and critical thinking.

Principles of anchored instruction:

Anchored instruction emphasizes the need to provide students with opportunities to think about and work on problems, which is an emphasis of cognitive constructivists. Anchored instruction also emphasizes group or collaborative problem solving, which is an emphasis of social constructivists. Much of the collaborative problem solving that is at the center of the Jasper Woodbury programs is an example of applied social constructivism.

The sections below explain several popular types of anchored instruction. The explanations are, however, very brief. You may want to explore the links in each section that take you to examples of the different types of software. "Playing" with the software will give you a much better feel for what anchored instruction is.


Jasper Woodbury Problem Solving Series

The Jasper Woodbury series of adventures, which were created by a group at Vanderbilt University, tell interesting stories in which there are problems to be solved.

The series is designed for middle grades, and the problems require and understanding of math concepts that are generally taught in the middle grades. Currently The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury series consists of 12 different videodisc-based adventures (plus video based analogs, extensions and teaching tips).

Jasper series represents an example of anchored instruction (and also of problem-based learning). The Jasper adventures go well beyond the "word problems" typically found in math textbooks for the middle grades. Jasper adventures use a visual story format to present problems. Students watch video segments from a videodisc to understand the situation and the problem. The materials available to the students also have "embedded data" and "embedded teaching" to seed the environment with ideas relevant to problem solving.

The General is Missing is one of the episodes. In this episode, Larry, Emily and Jasper find a note saying Grandpa has been called away on business, but Grandpa doesn't have a business.

They rush to solve the algebra equations Grandpa enclosed with his note. They graph the equations and place the resulting shape over Grandpa's letter. The kids finally find out that the letter says that Grandpa has been kidnapped. Grandpa asks the teenagers to prepare SMART Tools created using algebra so they can easily interpret the data and use it to find his location on the map. The challenge for the students in the classroom is to design the SMART Tools to decipher the directions that Grandpa sent to Larry, Jasper and Emily. In creating the SMART Tools, students learn how to measure the speed of sound, compare various rates of travel, show the relationship between a circle's circumference and its diameter, and determine the height of a hill by the horizontal distance traveled and the rate of the hill's incline.


The Voyage of the Mimi

The Voyage of the Mimi, which was developed by Bank Street College of Education, involves students as the crew on an ocean voyage of the 72-foot ketch, Mimi, a converted French tuna trawler outfitted as a modern ocean-going vessel.

The purpose of the voyage is to study whales. It is also intended to help students develop science and mathematics skills. To successfully complete the first voyage, students must learn and use navigation principles, map reading, and many other skills.

The First Voyage of the Mimi series consists of twenty-six 15-minute programs. In the adventure story, two scientists and their teenage research assistants embark on a seagoing expedition to study humpback whales. Each drama (episode) is paired with a 15-minute documentary (expedition) that develops a scientific or mathematical concept presented in the drama. Seven videodisks support this program with video clips that illustrate different phases of the voyage as well as simulated trips to museums, aquariums, and other places where scholars study the marine life.

The Second Voyage of the Mimi, which involves a voyage to Mexico. It continues the adventure with Mimi wintering off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, chartered by archeologists intent on studying Maya civilization. It combines dramatic episodes and documentary expeditions to develop mathematical and scientific concepts in grades 4-8. This series consists of twenty-four 15-minute programs. The Second Voyage of Mimi also uses laser disks.

Many types of support materials are available from the distributor, Sunburst. They include language arts activity guides for the voyages as well as theme guides, a whales database, student books, a social studies resource kit, wall charts, posters, and much more. The following screen capture is Sunburst's we page (  for The Voyage of the Mimi.


 Click here to view detailed The Voyage of the Mimi Program Descriptions (

Additional Information

John Bransford & the CTGV

This web page provides an overview on anchored instruction. It first describes anchored instruction as a major paradigm for technology-based learning that has been developed by the Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV) under the leadership of John Bransford. It then continues that the initial focus of the work was on the development of interactive videodisc tools that encouraged students and that the video materials serve as "anchors" (macro-contexts) for all subsequent learning an d instruction. It emphasizes that the anchors of anchored instruction are stories rather than lectures and were designed to be explored by students and teachers.


Learning Mathematics In Real-Life Context: A Case Study in 2 Schools

This study introduces technology-based anchored instruction materials to classrooms in two primary schools in Singapore. This study also seeks to study how local teachers and students will react to these anchored instruction materials. The materials include but not limited to "The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury". The researchers asked the teachers to develop their own lesson plans, and then studied how they customized instructional materials developed in the US for their own teaching objectives. Qualitative as well as quantitative research methodologies were included in the paper.

Anchored Instruction

This web page provides for beginners the general information on the originator, overview, applications, examples, principles of anchored instruction.


Using Videotape Vignettes to Teach Problem-Solving Skills

This paper discusses the development and use of videotape vignettes, portraying real-life problem scenarios, to teach concepts and problem-solving skills in environmental education. Videotaped vignettes offer an unique interdisciplinary advantage for teaching environmental problem solving by combining different areas such as drama, art, language arts, mathematics and science. Such problem-solving macrocontexts offer a richer and more complex environment than text by itself. They are also more representative of actual real-world problem solving experiences. The author also argues that the cognitive-networking process can be achieved by combining teaching strategies based on cooperative learning, and anchored instruction. Cooperative learning offers strategies for students to interact with their peers such as structured peer-group discussion, problem-solving team pairs, peer coaching, and role-based laboratory activities, while anchored instruction provides a motivational focus that "anchors" students to the learning task. Videotape anchors can be used as a learning environment within which students seek out and apply relevant knowledge, establish new connections, and build cognitive structures that result in more efficient problem-solving and better conceptual understanding.


Return to Homepage
Return  to Cognitive Constructivist Theories
Return  to Social Constructivist Theories