Feb 12, 2013

The Role of Cognitive Development Theory for Mathematics Education


By. Marsigit

Theories about how children think and learn have been put forward and debated by philosophers, educators and psychologists for centuries; however, the contemporary thinking about education, learning and teaching is not 'brand new'; certain theories have been absorbed and transformed over time or translated into modern terms; and, some of them become prominent and influential (Wood, 1988).There is no question at all to the fact that anything related to the term 'cognitive development' is greatly embeded to the work of two greatest figures of developmental psychology in twentieth century, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky.

Piaget's influence on the primary mathematics curriculum and on research developmental psychology has been immense; Vygotsky's work has been gaining in influence over the past ten years. Traditionally, primary education has looked to child development and psychology for theoretical guidance and underpining (Gipps, 1994); Piaget's positive contribution, however, was both to start a theoretical debate about young children's intellectual development and to encourage the close observation of children; Vygotsky, the Russian psychologist, has given us a number of crucial insights into how children learn, of which to have particular consequences for classroom.

Observing child's behaviours when she interacts with surrounding objects or people, may be the starting point to discuss about the mechanisms of her cognitive development. In the interactions she may look at the object, take hold of it, listen to the sound or talk to the people; more than just these, she may also categorize, memorize or even make the plan for a certain activity. Such behaviour is taken for granted, much is automatic, yet for it happen at all requires the utilization of complex cognitive processes (Turner, 1984).

By perceiving or attending to the visual and auditory surroundings, she may keep these in her mind. Her recognition of the functions of the objects, for example that the chair has the function for sitting, is related to the using of her memories and her developing the concepts of a 'chair'. Cognitive processes underlie the ability to solve problems, to reason and to learn. Implicitly, the above proposition lead that the term of 'cognitive development' is associated with the development of the processes and the content to which these processes are applied. Behaviourists characterize internal processes by associating them with the 'stimulus-response'.

The reason why a person gives a particular response to a particular stimulus was thought to be either because the two were associated in some way, that is, the response was 'conditioned', or because the appearance of this response had been rewarded previously (Turner, 1984). Information-processing approach assumes that a person who perceives stimuli, stores it, retrieves it, and uses it (ibid, 5); information is transformed in various ways at certain stages in its processing.

Piaget (1969) admitted that any explanation of the child's development must take into consideration two dimensions: an ontogenetic dimension and a social dimension (in the sense of the transmission of the successive work of generations). Piaget used a biological metaphor and characterized mathematical learning as a process of conceptual reorganization. At the heart of Piaget's theory is the idea of structure; cognitive development, and in particular the emergence of operational thought, is characterized in term of the emergence of new logical or logico-mathematical structures. Further, Light states that Piaget's theory has a functional aspect, concerned with intelligence as adaptation, with assimilation, accommodation and equilibration; his main contribution and influence lay in his structural account of cognition.

Central to Piaget's view of the child is the assumption that the child actively constructs his own ways of thinking through his interactions with the environment (ibid, p.216). Piaget used observations of his own children to formulate some aspects of the development of intelligence. Absolutists view mathematical truth as absolute and certain; and, progressive absolutists view that value is attached to the role of the individual in coming the truth (Ernest, 1991). They see that humankind is seen to be progressing, and drawing nearer to the perfect truths of mathematics and mathematics is perceived in humanistic and personal terms and as a language (ibid, p.182).

Piaget provides 'a license for calling virtually anything a child does education (McNamara, 1994); moreover, an analysis of the development of the progressive movement in the UK suggests that it was only after child-centered methods were established in some schools that educationists turned to psychologists such as Piaget to provide a theoretical justification for classroom practice. The other foundation for a number studies in Psychology, in which Piaget played a prominent part, seems to be influenced greatly by Durkheim's assumption, as Luria cited that the basic processes of the mind are not manifestations of the spirit's inner life or the result of natural evolution, but rather originated in society. And Vygotsky stressed on using socio-cultural as the process by which children appropriate their intellectual inheritance.

Reference:
Ernest, P.,1991, The Philosophy of Mathematics Education, London : The Falmer Press.
Gipps, C., 1994, 'What we know about effective primary teaching' in Bourne, J., 1994, Thinking Through Primary Practice, London : Routledge.
McNamara, D., 1994, Classroom pedagogy and primary practice, London : Routledge.
Piaget, J. and Inhelder, B., 1969, The psychology of the child, London : Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Turner, J.,1984, Cognitive Development and Education, London: Methuen.
Vygotsky, L.S, 1966, 'Genesis of the higher mental functions' in Light, P. et al. , 1991, Learning to Think : Child Development in Social Context 2, London : Routledge.
Wood, D., 1988, How Children Think & Learn, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

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