Academic journal article Childhood Education

Basing Technique on Piaget's Constructivism

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Basing Technique on Piaget's Constructivism

Article excerpt

Constructivism, the view that much of learning originates from inside the child, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Many educators, however, use the term "construct" loosely without knowing, for example, that children construct a system of writing very differently from how they construct mathematical understanding. And some people think that Piaget had nothing to do with constructivism, crediting him only with discovering the stages of children's development.

The purpose of this article is to explain three main reasons for basing teaching on Piaget's constructivism: 1) it is a scientific theory that explains the nature of human knowledge, 2) it is the only theory in existence that explains children's construction of knowledge from birth to adolescence and 3) it informs educators of how Piaget's distinction among the three kinds of knowledge changes the way we should teach many subjects.

A Scientific Explanation of Human Knowledge

Philosophers have debated for centuries about how human beings attain truth, or knowledge. The two main views - the empiricist and rationalist views - developed in answer to this question differ, especially in the way philosophers thought about the role of experience.

Empiricists (such as Locke, Berkeley and Hume) argued, in essence, that knowledge has its source outside the individual, and that it is acquired by internalization through the senses. Empiricists further argued that the individual at birth is like a clean slate on which experiences are "written" as he or she grows up. As Locke wrote in 1690, "The senses at first let in particular ideas, and furnish the yet empty cabinet, and the mind by degrees growing familiar with some of them, they are lodged in the memory ..." (1690/1947, p. 22).

Although rationalists such as Descartes, Spinoza and Kant did not deny the necessity of experience, they argued that reason is more important than sensory experience because reason enables us to know with certainty many truths that observation can never ascertain. We know, for example, that every event has a cause, in spite of the fact that we cannot examine every event in the entire past and future of the universe. Rationalists also pointed out that since our senses often deceive us through perceptual illusions, the senses cannot be trusted to provide reliable knowledge. The rigor, precision and certainty of mathematics, a purely deductive system, was the rationalists' prime example supporting the power of reason. When asked to explain the origin of reason, many proclaimed it was innate in human beings.

As a biologist trained in scientific methods, Piaget decided that the way to resolve the debate between empiricism and rationalism was to study knowledge scientifically, rather than continuing to argue on the basis of speculation. Piaget also believed that to understand the nature of knowledge, we must study its formation rather than examining only the end product. This is why he wanted to study the evolution of science from its prehistoric beginning, to examine the roles of sensory information and reason. Prehistoric evidence did not exist anymore, however, and the closest data available to him were babies' and children's knowledge. For Piaget, the study of children was thus a means of explaining the nature of human knowledge (Bringuier, 1977/1980).

The outcome of more than 50 years of research was Piaget's sharp disagreement with empiricism. Although he did not agree completely with rationalism, he did align himself with rationalism when required to place himself in a broad sense in one tradition or the other. With regard to the empiricist belief that we know objects through our senses, he argued that we never know objects as they are "out there" in external reality. Objects can be known only by assimilation into the schemes that we bring to each situation.

The famous conservation-of-liquid task offers an example of Piaget's opposition to empiricism. …

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