Playing Piaget in Upper School Science

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, known for his discoveries related to child development, was the focus of a recent cross-curricular experience. In our Upper School science elective Topics in Psychology, each older student paired up with a Senior Kindergarten counterpart to test their cognitive abilities on a range of different activities.
Each activity aimed to identify the current stage of each younger student, using Piaget’s model of cognitive development. Piaget’s theory focused not only on how children acquire knowledge, but also on understanding the nature of intelligence. His theory suggested that students move through four different stages of development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete and formal.
These activities revealed that most SK students were in the preoperational stage (2-7 years old), meaning they are beginning to think symbolically and learn to use words and pictures to represent objects. Upper School students learned that children at this stage of development are egocentric and struggle to see things from another person’s perspective. They also talk about things in very concrete terms.
For example, in one activity, an older student divided a lump of clay into two equal pieces and encouraged the younger student to choose the piece that was larger. One piece of clay was rolled into a compact ball while the other was rolled into a thin string-shape piece. Because the latter piece appears larger, the preoperational child will likely choose that piece even though the two pieces are exactly the same size. On the other hand, some SK students had not reached this stage, unable to choose one or the other, or had progressed to later stage and knew right away that they were the same.
This experience with their younger counterparts students provided the Upper School scientists with firsthand experience of the Piaget theory and how students understand the world and make sense of their experiences.

Click here for photos of this experience.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.