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A qualitative study examining children's development of scientific thinking

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  1. Abstract.
  2. Introduction.
  3. Method.
    1. Design.
    2. Participants.
    3. Materials.
    4. Apparatus.
  4. Procedure.
  5. Results.
  6. Prediction accuracy tables.
    1. Explanation frequency tables.
  7. Discussion.
  8. Conclusion.
  9. Appendix.
  10. References.

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. [...]

[...] Furthermore he showed no significant indecision at any stage: indicating the robustness, for him, of his existing hypotheses. Selley (1993, in ED209 assignment booklet) proposes that children's reasoning should be accepted as provisional truths until children show signs of questioning their own understandings. Selley argues against the imposition of parsimonious, consistent scientific reasoning until the child's experiences produce a "readiness to adopt a new explanatory model" (ibid. p49). Discovery learning facilitation and scaffolding by Professor Nunes produced no change in Daniel's scientific thinking. [...]

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