Cobb & Steffe (1983)

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The Constructivist Researcher as Teacher and Model Builder

The article The Constructivist Researcher as Teacher and Model Builder was written by Paul Cobb and Leslie Steffe and published in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education in 1983. The article is available from JSTOR at


The constructivist teaching experiment is used in formulating explanations of children's mathematical behavior. Essentially, a teaching experiment consists of a series of teaching episodes and individual interviews that covers an extended period of time--anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 years. The explanations we formulate consist of models--constellations of theoretical constructs--that represent our understanding of children's mathematical realities. However, the models must be distinguished from what might go on in children's heads. They are formulated in the context of intensive interactions with children. Our emphasis on the researcher as teacher stems from our view that children's construction of mathematical knowledge is greatly influenced by the experience they gain through interaction with their teacher. Although some of the researchers might not teach, all must act as model builders to ensure that the models reflect the teacher's understanding of the children.

Outline of Headings

  • Why We, as Researchers, Act as Teachers
    • The Constructivist view of Teaching
    • Teaching Episodes and Clinical Interviews
  • Teaching Experiments
    • Macroschemes and Microschemes
    • Constructivist and Nonconstructivist Microschemes
  • Model Building in a Teaching Experiment
    • Development of Jason's Counting Schemes
  • Model Building—The Quest for Generality and Specificity
  • The Educational Significance of Models


Cobb, P., & Steffe, L. P. (1983). The constructivist researcher as teacher and model builder. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 14(2), 83–94. doi:10.2307/748576
author = {Cobb, Paul and Steffe, Leslie P.},
doi = {10.2307/748576},
journal = {Journal for Research in Mathematics Education},
number = {2},
pages = {83--94},
title = {{The constructivist researcher as teacher and model builder}},
url = {},
volume = {14},
year = {1983}