Piaget (1896 - 1980)
• Swiss Psychologist, worked for
several decades on understanding
children’s cognitive development
• Most widely known theory of cognitive
• Was intrigued by kids’ thoughts & behavior, & worked
to understand their cognitive development
• Young Piaget was incredibly precocious
– Published first paper at 10
– Wrote on mollusks, based on these writings was
asked to be curator of mollusks at a museum in
Geneva (he declined in order to finish secondary
– Earned his doctorate in natural sciences at 21
– Began to study psychology, applying intelligence tests
to school children
• Assumption that learning is an active
process of construction rather than a
passive assimilation of information or rote
• Credited for founding constructivism
• Has had a large influence on American
Piaget and Constructivism
• Best known for idea that individuals construct
their understanding, that learning is a
– Active learning as opposed to simply absorbing
info from a teacher, book, etc.
– The child is seen as a ‘little scientist’ constructing
understandings of the world largely alone
• believed all learning is constructed,
whether it is something we are taught or
something we learn on our own.
• Whether or not we are taught in a
“constructivist” manner, Piaget believed
we are constructing knowledge in all our
Piaget & Learning
• Two main states – equilibrium & disequilibrium
• Believed that we are driven or motivated to learn
when we are in disequilibrium
We want to understand things
The level of disequilibrium must be just right or optimal –
too little and we are not interested in changing, too much
and we may be anxious to change.
Piaget & Learning
• Equilibration: the act of searching for balance
• assimilation & accommodation
• We adjust our ideas to make sense of reality
• process of matching external reality to an existing cognitive
• Ex. The first time many children see a skunk, they call it a
“kitty”. They try to match the new experience with an
existing scheme for identifying animals.
Piaget & Learning
• When there’s an inconsistency between the
learner’s cognitive structure & the thing being
learned the child will reorganize his/her
• Example: Children demonstrate
accommodation when they add the scheme
for recognizing skunks to their other systems
for identifying animals.
Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive
• A child’s capacity to understand certain
concepts is based on the child’s developmental
Piaget’s Four Stages
• Believed that all children develop according to four
stages based on how they see the world.
– He thought the age may vary some, but that we all go
through the stages in the same order.
1. Sensori-motor (birth –2 years)
2. Preoperational (2-7)
3. Concrete operational (7-11)
4. Formal operations (11-adult)
I. Sensorimotor Stage
• Birth to about 2 years, rapid change is seen
• The child will:
– Explore the world through senses & motor activity
– Early on, baby can’t tell difference between themselves & the
– Can later follow something with their eyes; begins to recognize that
objects do not cease to exist when they are hidden
– Moves from reflex actions to goal-directed activity
• About 2 to about 7
– Better speech communication
– Develop basic numerical abilities
– Still pretty egocentric (not selfish) but as difficulties
seeing another person’s point of view.
– Learning to be able to delay gratification
– Can’t understand conservation of matter
II. Preoperational (27)
• Conservation of matter – understanding
that something doesn’t change even though it
looks different, shape is not related to quantity
• Ex: Are ten coins set in a long line more than
ten coins in a pile?
• Ex: Is there less water if it is poured into a
Inability to understand
conservation of matter.
Guidelines: Teaching the
Use concrete props and visual aids whenever possible
1. When you discuss concepts such as “part,” “whole,” or
“one-half,” use shapes on a felt board or cardboard
“pizzas” to demonstrate.
2. Let children add and subtract with sticks, rocks, or
colored chips. This technique also is helpful for early
Guidelines: Teaching the
Make instructions relatively short-not too many steps at once. Use
actions as well as words.
1. When giving instructions about how to enter the room after recess
and prepare for social studies, ask a student to demonstrate the
procedure for the rest of the class by walking in quietly, going
straight to his or her seat, and placing the book, paper, and pencil on
his or her desk.
2. Explain the game by acting out one of the parts.
• Help students develop their ability to see the
world from someone else’s point of view.
• Relate social studies lessons about different
people or places back to the children’s
experiences, pointing out similarities and
• From about 7 to about 11
– Able to solve concrete (hands-on) problems in
– Understands laws of conservation and is able
GUIDELINES: Teaching the
Continue to use concrete props and visual aids,
especially when dealing with sophisticated material.
1. Use time lines in history and 3-dimensional models in
2. Use diagrams to illustrate hierarchical relationships
such as branches of government and the agencies
under each branch.
• Use familiar examples to explain more
• Compare students’ lives with those of
characters in a story.
• From 11- adult
– Able to solve abstract problems in logical
– Becomes more scientific in thinking.
– Develops concerns about social issues, identity.
GUIDELINES: Helping Students to
Use Formal Operations
Continue to use concrete-operational teaching
strategies and materials.
1. Use visual aids such as charts and illustrations as well
as somewhat more sophisticated graphs and diagrams,
especially when the material is new.
2. Compare the experiences of characters in stories to
• Give students the opportunity to explore
many hypothetical questions.
• Have students write position papers, then
exchange these papers with the opposing
side and debate topical social issues-the
environment, the economy, etc.
Development happens from one stage to another through interaction with
Kids will differ in how long they are in each stage.
Development leads to learning
– Drive for development is internal
– The child can only learn certain things when she is at the right
– Environmental factors can influence but not direct development
– Development will happen naturally through regular interaction with
Piaget & Education
• Piaget did not think it was possible to hurry
along or skip stages through education
Limitations of Piaget’s
• Children often grasp ideas earlier than what Piaget found
• Cognitive development across domains is inconsistent
(e.g. better at reading than math)
• Studies have shown that development can to some
degree be accelerated
• Overlooking cultural factors
• A group of vocal parents wants you to
introduce workbooks to teach basic arithmetic
in your class for 4- and 5-year-olds. They seem
to think that “play” with blocks, water, sand,
clay, and so on is “wasted time.” How would