I recently read an article from Science and Cognitive Development that really piqued my interest (https://www.ecetp.pdp.albany.edu/downloadfiles/vcresources/science_and_young_children.pdf).
It started by saying, “Science for young children is all about gaining new knowledge of the world around them; what they can see, hear, smell and touch. Science for young children is also about learning how to learn. It’s about being curious and following a process to make new discoveries.”
At the AIMS Center for Math and Science Education, we follow the work of Jean Piaget very closely. Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who observed children and asked them questions to find out how knowledge develops. Piaget was a very serious biologist long before he became known as a psychologist.
Piaget believed that one’s thinking changed as a result of interacting with their environment. He believed that we construct our knowledge. Piaget would have said that children learn as their concrete, hands-on experiences and knowledge of the physical world become mental actions. When a child comes across new information, she automatically compares it to what she already knows. If it is familiar information, it’s added to what she knows and the child ends up with more knowledge. When a child comes across new information that doesn’t fit with what she already knows, the information is either ignored or her brain tries to connect this new information to her prior knowledge.
The article went on to say that, “Piaget believed that children move from one stage to the next as their understanding becomes more complex. Each stage has unique qualities that help us to have appropriate expectations about children’s thinking.” This is where the AIMS Center has begun to focus our work. What are those stages? How do we help teachers to understand these critical stages in a child’s development and to gear their instruction toward not missing or skipping over one of these critical stages? Once we identify what stage a child is in, how do we create tasks that help each child carefully move to the next stage as they build this complex understanding of math and science concepts?
We have really made huge strides in understanding the stages that a child must experience as they begin to develop their understanding of number concepts. Yet, we have not begun to study how children come to know science concepts. We hope to change that soon…
We are very lucky this year to have the opportunity to work closely with Dr. Steve Pauls of Fresno Pacific University. He is delving deeply into research to find how students come to know science concepts… how they construct understanding… what stages they need to experience to develop this complex depth of understanding. It is our hope that he will identify that vein of research that can answer these questions. Throughout this year he will work closely with our Director of Research, Dr. Richard Thiessen, to design the framework for AIMS Center teams to begin translating research around how children come to know science from a very young age. Stay tuned to our blog to follow his progress.
Here at the AIMS Center, we are deeply committed to finding ways to translate research around how children learn math and science for teachers to better meet the needs of children in their classrooms. This work is too important NOT to do!