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The Idea of Conservation in Piaget’s Cognitive Theory

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The cognitive theory, developed by psychologist, Jean Piaget, has influenced the fields of education and psychology. Piaget discovered four periods of cognitive development: the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operations stage and the stage of formal operations. During the preoperational stage, children between the ages two-seven years old, are characterized by their development and refinement of symbolic representation. It is during this stage where children begin to use their intuition.

As newborns begin to grow into a toddler and then as young children, they begin to rapidly develop their cognitive abilities and essentially learn to think on their own. Children’s comprehension of symbols and numbers expands as they learn to identify what they look like, but can only relate it to the world from their perspective. According to Piaget, children who are in the preoperational stage, are highly determined by the way things appear to them based on their intuition. Children have not fully developed a sense of logic, but highly rely on their intuition. Piaget created the conservation task studies to exemplify how children perceive concrete operations by their logical thinking. The concept of conservation refers to the comprehension that properties of objects are unchanged, even after any physical changes to those objects. Children in the preoperational stage, may not be able to conceptualize the idea of conservation, based on their learning development. If they are able to comprehend the idea of conservation, then they are excelling in understanding that not all objects are concrete. To fully understand the concept, I performed a similar task to examine the extent of children’s conservation of volume.

During a family gathering, I asked my niece, who is six years old, to help with an assignment that required asking her questions. She eagerly agreed to help with my assignment and was seemingly excited that she was able to help me. The environment of the study was in a busy setting with family members surrounding the area, but I made sure the task was performed after dinner and when she was in a positive mood. When performing this task, there were no other children around to help reduce the risk of affecting the outcome of the results. I used two identical glass cups and a cup that was taller and narrower. For the first conservation, I used the two identical glass cups that had an equal amount of water and placed them in front of her. I asked her if she thought the glasses of water were both the same size or if they were different sizes. She responded first by examining the two cups very closely and decided that the cups were the same. I proceeded by pouring water from one of the identical cups into the cup that was more narrow. I asked her if the glasses had different sizes or if they were equal. Again, she examined the cups and pointed at the cup that was narrower, claiming that the glass had more water in it. I proceeded to ask her why she thought that the cup had more water. Her response was that the taller cup had a high level of water. Then, I explained the differing levels of water between the two cups and pouring back the water from the narrow, taller cup into the smaller cup. I repeated the task once more and she was able to understand and explain what I had shown her.

After performing the task and observing my niece, it was obvious that she was in the stage of preoperational. She was not able to comprehend the idea that I was not manipulating the amount of water, that I was just changing the appearance. Afterwards, I explained what I had done in slow manner to help her understand what the task was about. Initially, she had a surprised expression on her face, and proceeded to say that she understood what was being presented to her. Once she is able to fully grasp the concept, she will be able to move forward into the concrete operational stage.

From this study, I was able to collect information, in regard to my niece’s knowledge of conservation of volume. As Piaget predicted, my niece was not able to grasp the concept of conservation and constancy due to still being in the preoperational stage of development, which only allows children to view the world from their perspective. From my observations, I was able to recognize her curiosity about the question I was asking her, trying to ensure that she would get the answer correct. After pouring one of the cup into the longer, narrower cup, she did not process that the volume of the water was still the same, even though she closely watched what I had demonstrated. According to Kail and Cavanaugh (2019), children at this age, are egocentric, meaning they have trouble seeing the world from another’s perspective. She was only able to focus on the level of water and not on the volume of water.

This led me to the conclusion that, children in the preoperational stage, as Piaget mentions in his cognitive development theory, have yet to think logically and maintain their focus on one problem, but ignore the other aspects of the questions during the task. Children’s intuition is high and are quick to believe that what they know is correct. This leads to failing to acknowledge the conservation of volume during this age. In order for children to progress to the concrete operational stage, they need to be able to comprehend the idea of conservation an

In order for the children to progress their mathematical abilities, they would need to learn the conservation of numbers by learning to interpret their experience with the cognitive abilities. This task can be used to determine whether a child is behind their stages of development and to assess their cognitive thinking. 

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