Piaget’s Learning Theory in Elementary Education
In order to support children’s growth educators try to provide a stimulating classroom environment. They implement different strategies, tools and practices to help achieve this goal. Since educators play an important role in children’s development they should be familiar with developmental psychology and know of its educational implications in the classroom. There are two major approaches of developmental psychology: (1) Cognitive development as it relates to Piaget and (2) social development as it relates to Vygotsky. An educator may find it useful to study Piaget’s theory of cognitive development to help children build on their own knowledge.
Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss psychologist who is known for his studies of intellectual development in children (Strickland, 2001). His theory of cognitive development views children as “little scientists who learn vicariously as individuals” in their environment (Powell & Kalina, 2009, p. 241). In cognitive development, the individual constructs ideas through a personal process, as opposed to social development where ideas are constructed through interactions with the teacher and other students (Powell & Kalina, 2009). Thus, children commit information to memory when they have learned it is applicable to their real lives. Piaget believed that each individual "is the product of interaction between heredity and environment” (Krapp, 2012, pp. 345-372). The two cannot be separated and influence the individual’s learning.
Stages and Concepts of Cognitive Development. Cognitive development is a continuous, but gradual sequence throughout life. Piaget divided cognitive development into four stages: (1) Sensorimotor stage from birth to age two; (2) preoperational stage from ages two to seven years; (3) concrete operational stage from ages seven to twelve years; and (4) the formal operational stage from age twelve and beyond (Powell & Kalina, 2009).
In the sensorimotor stage the child discovers the environment through physical actions such as sucking, grabbing, shaking and pushing. During these first two years of life children realize objects still exist, even if it is out of view. This concept is known as object permanence. Children in the preoperational stage develop language skills, but may only grasp an idea with repeated exposure. As Piaget describes in the next stage, children draw on knowledge that is based on real life situations to provide more logical explanations and predictions. Lastly, in the formal operational stage children use higher levels of thinking and present abstract ideas.
The concept of equilibrium and disequilibrium are important to the four stages of development. Equilibrium is achieved through balance and successful stage transition while disequilibrium is the opposite. In achieving this balance the child “adjust his or her thinking (schema) to resolve conflict” (Powell & Kalina,...