This study compares Piaget's (in Oates et al, 2005) and Vygotsky's (ibid.) respective theories on processes involved in children's cognitive development. Specifically, scientific thinking is examined using children's explanations for why things float or sink obtained via adaptation of procedures first used by Piaget in the 1930s. A simple experiment elicits children's explanations for coding and quantifying. An informal procedure allows exploration and challenging of participant's thinking. Discovery learning and scaffolding are used to examine the participants' abilities to develop and grasp abstract scientific concepts. Results show that children's scientific understandings and their ability to grasp new concepts vary dependant on age. Findings support Piaget's (ibid.) stage theory. However, scaffolding was more effective than discovery learning in effecting change in participants' scientific thinking. Questions about children's learning processes have elicited many theories. Behaviorists (c.f. Skinner) argue for a "tabula rasa" that is written on and changed by external events.
[...] His theories are used to support the pedagogic principle of discovery learning which argues; a rich learning environment and interpersonal conflict facilitates better cognitive development than formal teaching. Howe et al ( ibid.) studies' lent support to these ideas. Contemporaries of Piaget (c.f. Vygotsky) argued for inductive processes driving cognitive development. Vygotsky (1978, in Oates et al, 2005) agreed with Piaget's view of an active child however Vygotsky's social constructivist ideas argued for exogenous processes being responsible for cognitive development, where more able others and cultural tools (e.g. [...]
[...] Daniel's invention is consistent with Piaget's & Inhelder's (1974, in Nunes & Bryant 2004) proposals for children's thinking when confronted by change. Daniel's final float/sink explanations were firmly situated within his concrete operational capabilities; offering strong evidence supporting Piaget's stage theory. Jessica's performance also supported Piaget's stage theory. She demonstrated formal operations which allowed cognitive change via scaffolding through her ZPD. Jessica's stage 5 explanations (App B2) showed confusion by the unfamiliar items. She had not developed a sufficiently coherent abstract (density) concept to allow generalization to these new items therefore she fell back on mechanistic properties, experience and guessing. [...]
[...] Jessica is very confused (23:53, 24; 08 AppA2), regressing to singular concrete explanations. Stage 8 scaffolding does move Jessica's thinking to an emergent abstract scientific explanation of density. She realizes that weight combined with size is a single general rule that fits all the evidence (32:32 AppA2). Daniel however does not make this step and stays firmly rooted in concrete explanations (31:03, 31:19 AppA1). Discussion The research question asked whether Piaget' or Vygotsky's respective theories best account for how children gain scientific understandings of the world. [...]
[...] Conclusion This study offers support for the effectiveness of scaffolding in moving older children's scientific thinking through a ZPD. However, it also supports Piaget's stage theory. Daniel, seven years, exhibited the expected skills and understandings of concrete operations. Jessica years, showed emergent formal operational thinking which when scaffold moved through her ZPD into more coherent generalized hypothesizing. Discovery learning did not produce any significant cognitive change in either participant. However, Jessica exhibited intrinsic motivation by testing the surface tension effect with the rubber band. [...]
[...] Each participant separately completed a practical experiment designed to explore their understandings of why things float or sink. Participants' understandings were challenged by an informal conversational and practical method to facilitate new hypotheses using discovery learning followed by Vygotskian scaffolding to move their learning through their ZPDs. The full protocol of the practical phase is set out in the assignment booklet pp32-33. Participants' responses were transcribed and float/sink explanations coded then quantified allowing comparisons of explanations between phases. Stage nine explanations were not coded but salient points are examined in the discussion. [...]
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