Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Learning from Einstein: Teachable lessons using the constructivism learning theory

Albert Einstein is synonymous with creativity and genius. His research opened ground to new discoveries in physics, overthrowing classical Newtonian concepts and providing solid basis for the understanding of space, time, energy, matter, and light. Einstein is considered the most important scientific person of the 21st century. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. Einstein died at the age of 76 in April 18, 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

Einstein’s personal life

Albert Einstein was born in March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Germany. He was the son of Hermann Einstein and Pauline Koch. Einstein had a sister named Maja, who eventually became his most intimate soul mate. Since early childhood, Einstein demonstrated his uniqueness personality. He started talking late –at about 3 years old. His parents were concerned of a possible deficiency. He was a shy boy that preferred to play alone; he was trying to find answers to his never ending questions. He enjoyed solving puzzles and building large buildings with cards. Thanks to his mother -who played the piano, Einstein received violin classes. This may have increased his mathematical skills. When he was 16, he imagined traveling along with a beam of light; later this vision helped him articulate his famous theory of relativity.

Einstein was a non- conformant individual who challenged authority and eventually became an authority himself

Albert Einstein was non-conformant individual who challenged authority, conventional wisdom, and all types of dogmas. When he was studying at the Zurich Polytechnic in Switzerland had trouble relating with his professors because, despite his superior abilities in physics, his teachers never approved his unconventional approaches. As a consequence, he did not get a job as assistant professor, although he was constantly looking to get one. Those years were not easy for Einstein; he was making very few money and was desperate –he survived by teaching private classes of physics and math. He even thought of drastic measures -such as quitting his scientific career and getting a “practical” job in a company. Thanks to one of his few, long-life friends -Marcel Grossman, whose father extended a recommendation, Einstein got a job as a third class examiner in a patent office.

A genius working with inventors

The work at the patent office fitted his personality; he analyzed inventions and selected those with potential for commercialization. Einstein saw how these brilliant people were incapable to describe their products. Einstein helped them writing the characteristics of their inventions and at the same time, was honing his abilities to simplify things. The years at the patent office were the most productive for Albert Einstein, he produced four papers considered the most important work of his life: - on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, the special theory of relativity, and equivalence of matter and energy (E=mc2). In addition he obtained his Ph.D., an accomplishment that helped him get a promotion from a third grade to a second grade patent examiner.

In his years at the University, Einstein got madly in love with Mileva Maric, a Serbian -and the only woman in his physics class. They had an illegitimate daughter -named Lieserl –that probably died or was given in adoption. Later they married and had two sons: Hans Albert and Eduard. Mileva was never accepted by Einstein’s mother, Pauline, and finally they got divorced. Later in 1919, Einstein married his cousin Elsa Löwenthal with whom he lived until her death in 1936. Einstein had an aloof personality. Notwithstanding, his detached relationships with others –including his sons, Einstein had the capacity to empathize and nurture long life relationships.

Against all odds, Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics

Einstein was nominated 10 times for the Nobel Prize in Physics but for some reason, his nomination was continuously rejected. His revolutionary theories were difficult to be tested at the time, and the Nobel Prize commission did not want to provide him the famous prize -fearing of making a mistake. In 1919 the British astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington decided to test his relativity theory. Eddington´s expeditions took pictures of the solar eclipse from two places: Brazil and Principe, an island in Africa. Eddington proved Einstein´s theory that light “bends” but later critics declared the method inaccurate and Einstein was not awarded. Finally, in 1921 after so much pressure from renowned physics, Einstein was awarded in 1921 the Nobel Prize in Physics, not for his relativity theory, but "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect."
At that time Einstein was worldwide famous. He later moved to America where he lived until his death in 1955. In 1939 Leo Szilárd an Hungarian émigré approached Einstein to get his support to develop an atomic bomb. Fearing that Germany win the race to develop the bomb, Einstein wrote a letter to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and in 1942 the US started the Manhattan Project with the mission to develop the bomb. Einstein did not work in the Manhattan Project, although the bomb was developed under the basis of his famous paper “Equivalence of matter and energy (E=mc2)”

The creative mind of a genius

On April 17, 1955 Albert Einstein died by the rupture of an
abdominal aortic aneurysm. After his death, the analysis of his brain did not revealed significant differences from other brains. The difference was his mind, and creativity was the basis for his genius. Einstein considered that freedom was the lifeblood of creativity. “The development of science and of the creative activities of the mind requires of freedom of the spirit: the independence of thought from the restriction of authoritarian and social prejudice. Nurturing that, should be the fundamental role of government and the mission of education”.

What teachable lessons can we learn from Albert Einstein?

The analysis of Einstein as an OD practitioner allows the exploration of the mental models and behaviors of a non-conformant genius that broke physics paradigms and challenged conventional wisdom. Einstein is the symbol for creativity and learning. The basis for his genius was his capacity to make the connection of complex things in his mind and provide a simple, yet profound explanation.
“Life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance, you must keep moving”
I am a firm advocate of the constructivism learning theory and I strongly believe that the development of key competencies and behaviors leads to the integral transformation of individuals.

Einstein exercised the principles of the
constructivism learning theory. This theory states that people gain knowledge and meaning from experiences, following an internal reflection process. This theory places the responsibility of learning on the individual and his ability to interact with other knowledgeable members. In his young years when he was working at the Patent Office, Einstein started “The Olympia Academy” that consisted of weekly meetings with his friends to discuss philosophy and physics. The Olympia Academy was the social media tool that he used to increase his learning.

Einstein placed special importance to creativity: “creativity requires being willing not to conform, and nurturing free minds and free spirits, which in turn requires a spirit of tolerance. The underpinning of tolerance is humility: the belief that no one has the right to impose ideas or beliefs on others”.

In one of his trips to America he was asked one of the famous questions from the test that
Thomas Alva Edison used to apply to his employees. What is the speed of sound? Einstein was asked. He replied: “I do not know it offhand” “I do not carry information in my mind that is ready available in books”. He explained that the value of a college education was to train the mind to think.

What are we doing as parents, educators, government officials, and leaders in organizations to foster creativity and innovation?

As Einstein said, “creativity is more important than knowledge”.

· Brian. D,
Einstein: A Life, John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 1996. NY
· Isaacson. W (performed by Hermann E.),
Einstein: His life and Universe, Unabridged Books, 2007, Frederick, MD.
· Robinson, A.,
Einstein: A hundred years of relativity, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005, NY.


  1. Excellent article Mr. Justo. Einstein's life and his work with The Olympia Academy do indeed appear to follow Piaget's accomodation and assimilation vision of Constructivism to construct new knowledge from experiences. Great food for thought!

  2. Mr Justo, just happened across your blog. Your topics and writing are excellent. I'll check back. Topic on Einstein was especially valuable.

    Ellen Ward - GMU ODKM student, class of '09
    (Falls Church, VA)

  3. Einstein was a very brilliant man. Although, his downs I bet he had SEVERAL equations to get up. Ramiro is my name I live in Texas, and love math. I look forward to be atleast .1 as smart as Einstein was, but from him I've learned that time teaches you. Experience is knowledge. Any knowledge is good knowledge. therefore sayin any experience is good.

  4. Amazing how Einstein this day today still holds a legacy beyond comparison. Wonder if we'll ever see a genious like him again

    Excellent post