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My initial reaction  after reading Piaget in graduate school could be summed up as something very similar to :

"Who gives a frog's butt? This is the stupidest, most boring useless stuff I have ever read!'

(I did change my mind somewhat after a while - keep reading - although I still stand firm on the boring part. Piaget in the original is a great cure for insomnia. Maybe it's better in French.) 

Being the good student that I was, though, I assumed that perhaps it was because I was just reading the textbooks' descriptions of Piaget. After all, he must be important because most of the people in developmental psychology, particularly in the cognitive development area, seemed to think he was the best thing to come along since fry bread. So, ===== drum roll here and be impressed, ==== I decided to go ahead and read Piaget's books for myself. After plowing through many hundreds of pages of descriptions of "ontological epistemology" (I am not making these words up) and more hundreds of pages of discussions of how children's morality was revealed through the rules they used in playing marbles (I am not making that up either), I came to two conclusions:

1) As a student once said in a term paper, "Reading Piaget is something like reading the instructions for putting my stereo components together," and

2) Piaget does actually have some applications for educating children, although, in my own personal opinion, he could have done a heck of a lot better job at laying out those applications.

The impression I got, which I think is accurate, is that Piaget was really interested in studying child development purely out of scientific curiosity, and not that concerned with turning his theory and findings into practical applications. It just happened to turn out that there were some practical applications.


1. Decentering -- children in middle childhood become capable of considering more than one aspect of an object or situation at a time. Their thinking becomes more complex. For example, they can understand that the area of a rectangle is determined by the length AND width.

2. Children's understanding is based on their concrete experiences. So, if you are teaching children how to find area, you are going to have a lot more success if you have them measure a lot of rectangles than if you just give them a formula and expect them to apply it in general. Your best bet is to have them measure rectangles on pieces of paper, have them measure their desks, tiles on the classroom floor, etc. The same is true if you are teaching about social studies.


How do you teach children about third-world countries, inequities in income, etc.? One terrific example I witnessed was a unit for third-graders on a South American country. The teacher explained that, in this country, 90% of the people lived in poverty. They did not have enough to eat; they did not have school supplies; they did not even have desks in many of the schools. Then, she assigned 27 of her 30 students to be poor. She took their chairs away and made them sit on the floor. She gave them one box of broken crayons to share among them. She took their snacks that they had brought from home and gave them instead one small package of broken crackers to share. The three lucky "rich" children, on the other hand, each had their own box of 64 brand new crayons, their own lunches, and, of course, their own desks. Years later, the children who were in that class still talk about what they learned about Chile.

Most teachers tend to follow Piaget's ideas on concrete learning of children of this age, even if they are not as elaborate as the example above. This is why, in elementary school social studies programs, children learn about concrete aspects of other cultures, such as dress, food, industries and the daily life of children in those societies, rather than abstract notions such as the countries' political systems.

3. Conservation - that quantity, weight, etc. cannot be judged just on appearances. While all of the discussion on conservation of this and that may seem boring at first, and somewhat pointless, it really isn't. What children are learning is to reason out things, some basic, IMPORTANT fundamentals of mathematics for example:

A= A     A + 0 = A    Identity. Something equals itself, and anything plus zero still equals itself. If there were seven coins in a row before, and you didn't add any, then there are still seven coins there. It doesn't matter if you spread them out, stacked them up or put them closer together . Even if it LOOKS as if there are more or less, there really is still the same number.

A- B + B = A  Reversibility - when you do something, whether it is squish a ball of clay flat or subtract a number, you can do it in reverse and end up to where you were before, with the same thing.




Metacognition was not one of Piaget's ideas but part of cognitive learning theories which came later, particularly information processing theory. I don't think that particular fact is as important as the application of it. Metacognition is, literally, thinking about one's own thinking. It is, as your textbook says, the ability to select the appropriate strategies to use in the right situation.

I have an eleven-year-old and a twelve-year-old daughter. Both are very intelligent. It is not just I who say so, but also the schools which have one in an advanced program and offered to skip the other a grade. Yet, they both have some trouble with math, especially word problems. Problems like the one below cause them to be totally frustrated.

Jennifer met her friend at 7:30 pm. She had $12 and she bought a hamburger at $2.25, french fries for $1.75 and a milk shake. She had six dollars left over and spent it on video games. She went from the arcade to her friend's house and got back home at 10:00. How much did her milk shake cost?
It is not that they can't add or subtract, it is that they don't know when to do which. They don't know what data is irrelevant. To help children at this age, teachers (and parents) should be instructing them to:

A) Identify relevant and irrelevant information. What time she left, where she went and when she got home has nothing to do with it. My youngest daughter calls all people in word problems "Bob", even if they are female. If there are two or more people, she calls them Bob1, Bob2, etc. It is her way of reminding herself that what the person's name is has nothing to do with the right answer and it doesn't matter if you can read or pronounce their name.

B) Identify the correct steps to take in solving a problem. In this example, you started out with $12, and after you ate, you had $6 left. So, first you figure out how much your meal cost. Next, you figure out how much the french fries and hamburgers together cost. Then you figure out what the difference is between the cost of the hamburger + fries and your total meal. That is the cost of your shake.

C) Identify which operations to perform. In this case, first you subtract six from twelve, then you add $2.25 and $1.75 and then you subtract that amount from six. (And yes, I do know there are other ways you could have solved this problem!)

    Although the examples above focus mostly on mathematics (for one reason, because that is what I used to teach), the same processes of cognitive development apply to many different situations. One that jumps to mind is doing the laundry. We live in an apartment building in a two-story apartment. The laundry room is downstairs in an underground garage, and you have to go outside to get to it. The door to get into the garage and the laundry room are both locked. In case you are interested, this is because, while Santa Monica is a fairly affluent area, we have a very large population of homeless people, and many of the elderly people in our building would get quite upset when they went downstairs to do laundry, particularly after it had been cold or rainy the night before, and would find someone sleeping next to the dryers. Actually, my husband used to get upset, too, and he's not elderly.

ANYWAY, to get back to the subject, there are a number of steps involved in doing the laundry. First, get your dirty clothes together, then, take them downstairs, don't forget to take the keys to the laundry room, don't forget to take quarters to put in the washer. Remember to bring the keys back upstairs with you instead of locking them in the laundry room. Go back downstairs and put the clothes in the dryer. Remember to bring quarters to put in the dryer. Remember to bring the keys back upstairs with you. Don't forget to go back and get your clothes out of the dryer and bring them upstairs. Bring the keys with you. It is just because of the incomplete development of metacognition in middle childhood that I have four extra sets of keys. I cannot count the number of times a child has come back upstairs because they have either forgotten money for the machines, forgotten to bring keys, or locked the keys in the laundry room. Sometimes they have locked the keys in the laundry room when they took the clothes down to put them in the washer, forgotten about it, taken another set of keys, and locked them in the laundry room after they put the clothes in the dryer. This is why I have four extra sets of keys. I remind myself that they are not doing this deliberately but that it is evidence of incomplete development of metacognition. I remind myself of this frequently. That way I do not kill them.

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