__JEAN PIAGET MATHEMATICAL THEORY__ANSWER- Jean Piaget’s work on children’s cognitive development, specifically with quantitative concepts,

has garnered much attention within the field of

education. Piaget explored children’s cognitive

development to study his primary interest in genetic

epistemology. Upon completion of his doctorate, he

became intrigued with the processes by which children

achieved their answers; he used conversation as a

means to probe children’s thinking based on

experimental procedures used in psychiatric

questioning.

One contribution of Piagetian theory concerns the

developmental stages of children’s cognition. His work

on children’s quantitative development has provided

mathematics educators with crucial insights into how

children learn mathematical concepts and ideas. This

the article describes stages of cognitive development with emphasis on their importance to mathematical

development and provides suggestions for planning

mathematics instruction.

The approach of this article will be to provide a

brief discussion of Piaget’s underlying assumptions

regarding the stages of development. Each stage will

be described and characterized, highlighting the stage-appropriate mathematics techniques that help lay a solid foundation for future mathematics learning. The conclusion will incorporate general implications of the knowledge of stages of development for mathematics instruction.

**Underlying Assumptions–**

__JEAN PIAGET MATHEMATICAL THEORY__

Piaget believed that the development of a child

occurs through a continuous transformation of thought

processes. A developmental stage consists of a period

of months or years when certain development takes

place. Although students are usually grouped by

chronological age, their development levels may differ

significantly, as well as the

rate at which individual children pass through each

stage. This difference may depend on maturity,

experience, culture. According to Berk (1997), Piaget

believed that children develop steadily and gradually

throughout the varying stages and that the experiences

in one stage form the foundations for movement to the

next. All people pass through each stage before starting

the next one; no one skips any stage. This implies older

children, and even adults, who have not passed through

later stages process information in ways that are

characteristic of young children at the same

developmental stage.

**Stages of Cognitive Development**

Piaget has identified four primary stages of

development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete

operational, and formal operational.

**Sensorimotor Stage**

In the sensorimotor stage, an infant’s mental and

cognitive attributes develop from birth until the

appearance of language. This stage is characterized by

the progressive acquisition of object permanence in

which the child becomes able to find objects after they

have been displaced, even if the objects have been

taken out of his field of vision. For example, Piaget’s

experiments at this stage include hiding an object

under a pillow to see if the baby finds the object.

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Dr Bobby Ojose is an Assistant Professor at the University of

Redlands, California. He teaches mathematics education and

quantitative research methods classes. His research interests encompass constructivism in teaching and learning mathematics.

An additional characteristic of children at this

the stage is their ability to link numbers to objects (Piaget,

1977) (e.g., one dog, two cats, three pigs, four hippos).

To develop the mathematical capability of a child in

this stage, the child’s ability might be enhanced if he is

allowed ample opportunity to act on the environment

in unrestricted (but safe) ways in order to start building

concepts. Evidence suggests that

children at the sensorimotor stage have some

understanding of the concepts of numbers and counting. Educators of children in this stage of

development should lay a solid mathematical

foundation by providing activities that incorporate

counting and thus enhance children’s conceptual

development of number. For example, teachers and

parents can help children count their fingers, toys, and

candies. Questions such as “Who has more?” or “Are

there enough?” could be a part of the daily lives of

children as young as two or three years of age.

Another activity that could enhance the

mathematical development of children at this stage

connects mathematics and literature. There is a

plethora of children’s books that embed mathematical

content. (See Appendix A for a non-exhaustive list of

children’s books incorporating mathematical concepts

and ideas.) A recommendation would be that these

books include pictorial illustrations. Because children

at this stage can link numbers to objects, learners can

benefit from seeing pictures of objects and their

respective numbers simultaneously. Along with the

mathematical benefits, children’s books can contribute

to the development of their reading skills and

comprehension.

**Preoperational Stage**

The characteristics of this stage include an increase

in language ability (with over-generalizations),

symbolic thought, egocentric perspective, and limited

logic. In this second stage, children should engage with

problem-solving tasks that incorporate available

materials such as blocks, sand, and water. While the

child is working with a problem, the teacher should

elicit conversation from the child. The verbalization of

the child, as well as his actions on the materials, gives

a basis that permits the teacher to infer the mechanisms

of the child’s thought processes.

There is a lack of logic associated with this stage of

development; rational thought makes a little appearance.

The child links together unrelated events see objects

as possessing life, does not understand point-of-view,

and cannot reverse operations. For example, a child at

this stage who understands that adding four to five

yields nine cannot yet perform the reverse operation of

taking four from nine.

Children’s perceptions in this stage of development

are generally restricted to one aspect or dimension of

an object at the expense of the other aspects. For

example, Piaget tested the concept of conservation by

pouring the same amount of liquid into two similar

containers. When the liquid from one container is

poured into a third, wider container, the level is lower

and the child thinks there is less liquid in the third

container. Thus the child is using one dimension,

height, as the basis for his judgment of another

dimension, volume.

Teaching students in this stage of development

should employ effective questioning about

characterizing objects. For example, when students

investigate geometric shapes, a teacher could ask

students to group the shapes according to similar

characteristics. Questions following the investigation

could include, “How did you decide where each object

belonged? Are there other ways to group these

together?” Engaging in discussion or interactions with

the children may engender the children’s discovery of

the variety of ways to group objects, thus helping the

children think about the quantities in novel ways

(Thompson, 1990).

**Concrete Operations Stage**

The third stage is characterized by remarkable

cognitive growth, when children’s development of

language and acquisition of basic skills accelerate

dramatically. Children at this stage utilize their senses

in order to know; they can now consider two or three

dimensions simultaneously instead of successively. For

example, in the liquids experiment, if the child notices

the lowered level of the liquid, he also notices the dish

is wider, seeing both dimensions at the same time.

Additionally, seriation and classification are the two

logical operations that develop during this stage

(Piaget, 1977) and both are essential for understanding

number concepts. Seriation is the ability to order

objects according to increasing or decreasing length,

weight, or volume. On the other hand, classification

involves grouping objects on the basis of a common

characteristic.

According to Burns & Silbey (2000), “hands-on

experiences and multiple ways of representing a

the mathematical solution can be ways of fostering the

development of this cognitive stage” (p. 55). The

importance of hands-on activities cannot be

overemphasized at this stage. These activities provide

students an avenue to make abstract ideas concrete,

28 Applying Piaget’s Theory

allowing them to get their hands on mathematical ideas

and concepts as useful tools for solving problems.

Because concrete experiences are needed, teachers

might use manipulatives with their students to explore

concepts such as place value and arithmetical

operations. Existing manipulative materials include:

pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods, algebra tiles, algebra

cubes, geoboards, tangrams, counters, dice, and

spinners. However, teachers are not limited to

commercial materials, they can also use convenient

materials in activities such as paper folding and

cutting. As students use the materials, they acquire

experiences that help lay the foundation for more

advanced mathematical thinking. Furthermore,

students’ use of materials helps to build them

mathematical confidence by giving them a way to test

and confirm their reasoning.

One of the important challenges in mathematics

teaching is to help students make connections between

the mathematics concepts and the activity. Children

may not automatically make connections between them

work they do with manipulative materials and the

corresponding abstract mathematics: “children tend to

think that the manipulations they do with models are

one method for finding a solution and pencil-and-paper

math is entirely separate” (Burns & Silbey, 2000, p.

60). For example, it may be difficult for children to

conceptualize how a four by six-inch rectangle built

with wooden tiles relates to four multiplied by six, or

four groups of six. Teachers could help students make

connections by showing how the rectangles can be

separated into four rows of six tiles each and by

demonstrating how the rectangle is another

representation of four groups of six.

Providing various mathematical representations

acknowledges the uniqueness of students and provides

multiple paths for making ideas meaningful.

Engendering opportunities for students to present

mathematical solutions in multiple ways (e.g.,

symbols, graphs, tables, and words) is one tool for

cognitive development in this stage. Eggen & Kauchak

(2000) noted that while a specific way of representing

an idea is meaningful to some students, a different

representation might be more meaningful to others.

Operations Stage__Formal__

The child at this stage is capable of forming

hypotheses and deducing possible consequences,

allowing the child to construct his own mathematics.

Furthermore, the child typically begins to develop

abstract thought patterns where reasoning is executed

using pure symbols without the necessity of perceptive

data. For example, the formal operational learner can

solve x + 2x = 9 without having to refer to a concrete

situation presented by the teacher, such as, “Tony ate a

certain number of candies. His sister ate twice as many.

Together they ate nine. How many did Tony eat?”

Reasoning skills within this stage refer to the mental

the process involved in the generalizing and evaluating of

logical arguments (Anderson, 1990) and include

clarification, inference, evaluation, and application.

Clarification. Clarification requires students to

identify and analyze elements of a problem, allowing

them to decipher the information needed in solving a

problem. By encouraging students to extract relevant

information from a problem statement, teachers can

help students enhance they’re mathematical

understanding.

Inference. Students at this stage are

developmentally ready to make inductive and

deductive inferences in mathematics. Deductive

inferences involve reasoning from general concepts to

specific instances. On the other hand, inductive

inferences are based on extracting similarities and

differences among specific objects and events and

arriving at generalizations.

Evaluation. Evaluation involves using criteria to

judge the adequacy of a problem solution. For

example, the student can follow a predetermined rubric

to judge the correctness of his solution to a problem.

Evaluation leads to formulating hypotheses about

future events, assuming one’s problem solving is

correct thus far.

**Application.**

The application involves students

connecting mathematical concepts to real-life

situations. For example, the student could apply his

knowledge of rational equations to the following

situation: “You can clean your house in 4 hours. Your

sister can clean it in 6 hours. How long will it take you

to clean the house, working together?”

Implications of Piaget’s Theory

Critics of Piaget’s work argue that his proposed

theory does not offer a complete description of

cognitive development (Eggen & Kauchak, 2000). For

example, Piaget is criticized for underestimating the

abilities of young children.

Although not possible to teach cognitive

development explicitly, research has demonstrated that it can be accelerated. Piaget believed that the amount of time each

child spends in each stage varies by environment

(Kamii, 1982). All students in a class are not

necessarily operating at the same level. Teachers could

benefit from understanding the levels at which their

students are functioning and should try to ascertain

their students’ cognitive levels to adjust their teaching

accordingly. By emphasizing methods of reasoning,

the teacher provides critical direction so that the child

can discover concepts through investigation. The child

should be encouraged to self-check, approximate,

reflect and reason while the teacher studies the child’s

work to better understand his thinking (Piaget, 1970).

The numbers and quantities used to teach the

children number should be meaningful to them.

Various situations can be set up that encourage

mathematical reasoning. For example, a child may be

asked to bring enough cups for everybody in the class,

without being explicitly told to count. This will require

them to compare the number of people to the number

of cups needed. Other examples include dividing

objects among a group fairly, keeping classroom

records like attendance, and voting to make class

decisions.

Games are also a good way to acquire

understanding of mathematical principles (Kamii,

1982). For example, the game of musical chairs

requires coordination between the set of children and

the set of chairs. Scorekeeping in marbles and bowling

requires a comparison of quantities and simple

arithmetical operations. Comparisons of quantities are

required in a guessing game where one child chooses a

number between one and ten and another attempts to

determine it, being told if his guesses are too high or

too low.

**Summary-**

__JEAN PIAGET MATHEMATICAL THEORY__

As children develop, they progress through stages

characterized by unique ways of understanding the

world. During the sensorimotor stage, young children

develop eye-hand coordination schemes and object

permanence. The preoperational stage includes the growth

of symbolic thought, as evidenced by the increased use

of language. During the concrete operational stage,

children can perform basic operations such as

classification and serial ordering of concrete objects. In

the final stage, formal operations, students develop the

ability to think abstractly and metacognitively, as well

as reason hypothetically. This article articulated these

stages in light of mathematics instruction. In general,

the knowledge of Piaget’s stages helps the teacher

understand the cognitive development of the child as

the teacher plans stage-appropriate activities to keep

students active.