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During the 1920s, a biologist named Jean Piaget proposed a theory of cognitive
development of children. He caused a new revolution in thinking about how thinking
develops. In 1984, Piaget observed that children understand concepts and reason
differently at different stages. Piaget stated children's cognitive strategies which are used
to solve problems, reflect an interaction BETWEEN THE CHILD'S CURRENT
DEVELOPMENTAL STAGE AND experience in the world.
Research on cognitive development has provided science educators with constructive
information regarding student capacities for meeting science curricular goals. Students
which demonstrate concrete operational thinking on Piagetian tasks seem to function only
at that level and not at the formal operational level in science. Students which give
evidence of formal operational thinking on Piagetian tasks often function at the concrete
operational level in science, thus leading researchers to conclude that the majority of
adolescents function at the concrete operational level on their understanding of science
subject matter. In a study by the National Foundation of subjects in Piaget's Balance Task
were rated as being operational with respect to proportional thought development. In
addition, seventy-one percent of subjects did not achieve complete understanding of the
material studied in a laboratory unit related to chemical solubility. The unit delt with
primary ratios and proportions, and when overall physical science achievement was
considered, about forty-three percent of the formal operational studies were not able to
give simple examples of the problem that were correctly solved on the paper and pencil
exam (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958, p. 104).
Piaget was primarily concerned with the developmental factors that characterize the
changes in the child's explanations of the world around him or her. Piaget's early research
showed
three parallel lines of development. First, from an initial adualism or confusion of result of
the
subject's own activity with objective changes to reality to a differentiation between subject
and object. Second, from a phenomenological interpretation of the world to one which is
based on objective causality. Third, from a unconscious focusing on one's own point of
view to a decentration which allocates the subject a place in the world alongside other
persons and objects. In functional terms, these concepts are termed assimilation and
accommodation in reference to interaction with the physical world, and socialization in
reference to interaction with other people (Inhelder & Sinclair, 1974, p.22).
Piaget's states many secondary level science courses taught in the past at the have been
too abstract for most students since they are taught in lecture or reception learning
format. Thus, students who only have concrete operational structures available for their
reasoning will not be successful with these types of curricula. Programs using concrete
and self-pacing instruction are better suited to the majority of students and the only
stumbling block may be teachers who cannot understand the programs or regard them as
too simplistic. Since the teacher is a very important variable regarding the outcome of the
science, the concern level of the teacher will determine to what extent science instruction
is translated in a cognitively relevant manner in the classroom.
Educators who prefer to have children learn to make a scientific interpretation rather than
a mythological interpretation of natural phenomena, and one way to introduce scientific
interpretations is to analyze any change as evidence of interaction. One way in which this
teaching device can function is if there is an instructional period of several class sessions
in which the students are engaged in "play" with new of familiar materials; followed by is
a suggestion of a way to think about observations; lastly there is a further extermination in
which the students can explore the consequences of using their discoveries . Through the
process of guided discovery, the student
goes from observation at the beginning to interpretations at the end (Athey & Rubadeau,
1970, p. 245).
In Piaget's study of the operations that underlie the system of scientific concepts related to
number, measurement, physical quantities, and logical classes and relations, structural
models were needed to explain the processes involved in the formation of these concepts
(Inhelder & Sinclair, 1974, p. 23). The grouping of classes and relations describe the
characteristics of the end product of process of growth as a particular system of mental
operations. The logical and infralogical systems of concrete thought prolong the action
structures of the sensorimotor period, but because they are subsytems of extensive
higher-order structure, they pave the way for the mathematical group structures of the
period of formal thought.
Piaget proposes ( Piaget & Inhelder, 1971, p. 387) that knowing the object means acting
upon it in order to transform it and discover its properties through its transformations, with
the aim being to get at the object. Cognition is not based only on the object, but also on
the exchange or interactions between subject and object resulting from the action and
reaction of the two. Actions are coordinated in accordance with operational structures
which in the first place are constituted precisely as a function of the manipulation of
objects. The instrumentality of operational structures make possible the processes of
relating, corresponding, ordinal estimation, measurement, classification, and prepositional
structionalism. In a liquid conservation problem, (Inhelder & Sinclair, 1974, p.129) Inheler
proposed that because the child became able to regard the results of pouring as the final
state of a continuous process of change, he can integrate all aspects of the situation and
make fewer references to the dimensions as such because he has understood the nature
of their coordination. Greenfield's
results with this procedure using subjects from eleven to thirteen years of age, indicated
operatory solutions different form tests with eight year old. Considered in the context of
the subject's reactions to various conservation problems, if they are used to back up a
non-conservation answer, it shows a stage of reasoning based on the possibility of an
empirical return to the initial state, and that he is not compensating for reciprocal
variations of the dimensions. On the other hand, if the subject uses the same arguments
to back up a conservation answer, he has understood the concepts of compensation and
true reversibility. The third substage of the concrete operations period is called the
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