Cognitive Development

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This report looks at cognitive development of an adolescent through the use of Piaget’s pendulum task, and aims to assess the level of cognitive development with comparison to literature in the field and furthermore provide suggestions of how a teacher could enhance the subjects learning in one key learning area.

Pieget’s studies have been based around cognitive development. The development has 4 major stages. Each stage enables the person to develop ways of knowing. This report concentrates on the fourth stage, the formal operational stage. Critics of Piaget’s work are looked at and ideas such as learning, mentors and structures are looked at.

It was found that while the results of previous Piaget’s tests were replicated, the observations suggest that the results can not be assessed through Piaget’s work alone. Furthermore, to enhance the learning of the subject it was found that the NSW geography curriculum has the potential with appropriate teacher stimulus to adequately provide for the student, although literacy could be focused upon.

This report looks at cognitive development through the use of Piaget’s pendulum task. The pendulum task asks a person to figure out the variable that makes the pendulum swing faster, that is, increase the frequency. The way in which someone goes about the task is supposed to give an insight into the person’s level of cognitive development.

Fundamental to Piaget’s work is that the brain and the environment interact in producing cognitive development, and that this development can be broken up into four major stages (Gleitman, 1995). Berger (1998) in review of Pieget (1952, 1970) states that these stages are age related, in that children generally reach each stage within a particular age range in sequence. As a child enters into each stage they develop new ways of knowing and understanding (new ways of gathering intelligence) as defined by the boundaries of that stage.

In respect to the age of the student that undertook the pendulum task it is the fourth stage (the last stage) of Piaget’s cognitive development (Inhelder, B. Piaget, J 1958) that will be looked at. Berger (1998) summarises the fourth stage, the ‘formal operational stage’, as developing from 11-12 years old through to adulthood and is ‘characterised by hypothetical, logical, and abstract thought’ (Berger, 1998, p.41).

Piaget’s studies by focusing on mental processors and structures of thought has led to a large body of work which has provided insight into the way that we understand certain aspects of human behaviour, for ‘we now have a greater appreciation of the capacities and limitations of the types of thinking that are possible at various ages’ (Berger, 1998, p.41). As such this has greatly influenced educators in seeking “explanations for the difficulties encountered by the students in learning and as a basis for the design of more effective instruction’ (Adey, Shayer, 1993, p.1). For example, a major research topic was whether or not the development of cognition could be accelerated. Adey and Shayer, (1993) found that cognitive development could be accelerated and that the effects could be long term (Adey and Shayer, 1993, pp.26-27). Furthermore, Adey and Shayer (1993) cite work by Hallam, (1967) and Jurd (1973) who found the notion of concrete (the third stage) and formal operations can be applied to history, and that Fusco (1983) found that it could be fully applied in the context of English comprehension and social studies (Adey, Shayer, 1993, pp.26-27).

Thus, while Piaget’s studies on cognitive development have made a major contribution to knowledge in the field, his work has also led to a large body of criticism. Berger (1998, p.45) suggests that many people think Piaget ‘underestimated the importance of external motivation and instruction…the role of society and home in fostering cognitive development (Berger, 1998, p.45). Whereas socio-cultural theory ‘seeks to...
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