W. T. LeGard (2004) OU
Children’s Scientific Thinking: SocialInteraction and Cognitive Development
An observational study examined children’s scientific reasoning pertaining to objectsthat float or sink. The study was designed to test the hypotheses that social interactionis related to cognitive change, and that children move through developmental stagesin an understanding of science. The sample comprised a male child aged eight and afemale child aged twelve. Data were collated from video-recorded scientific tasks.The participants’ predictions and explanations were coded. Findings revealed thatsocial interaction and cognitive conflict can cause conceptual change, and that thereexists a developmental progression in children’s scientific thinking. The complexityof conceptual change is related to the child’s age. Scaffolding is only successful if theZPD is identified correctly.
Although Piaget (1955a) regarded cognitive development as an endogenous process,he proposed that peer-interaction has the potential to promote cognitive development.He claimed that such interactions allow children to experience socio-cognitiveconflict. Thus, conflicting viewpoints may compel the child to re-evaluate their individual knowledge.Vygotsky (1978) perceived children as social beings who are able to appropriate new patterns of thinking when learning alongside individuals who are more proficient.Through such collaboration, children come to master activities and think in ways thathave meaning in their culture. Vygotsky called this concept, the Zone of ProximalDevelopment (ZPD). This is the expanse between the child’s level of developmentand their potential developmental level, in collaboration with more competentindividuals. Thus, social interactions ‘scaffold’ (Wood, 1988) the child’s cognitivedevelopment in the ZPD, leading to a higher level of reasoning.Many researchers (e.g. Brownell and Carriger, 1999; Perret-Clermont, 1980; Doiseand Mugny, 1984; Howe et al., 1992) maintain that social interaction is related tocognitive change and the understanding of concepts in science.Selley (1993) proposed a developmental progression of children’s scientificunderstanding, relating to floating and sinking. He maintained that children initiallyacquire practical comprehension of buoyancy. As children realize their theories areinsufficient, they progress through various stages, what Selley termed Hypotheses 1,(1A), 2, 3 and 4.The above research proposes that social interaction and cognitive conflict contributeto cognitive change, and that children undergo a progression in scientificunderstanding. The present observational study measured children’s predictions andexplanations concerning the sinking and floating behaviour of a variety of objects.The study’s principle intention was to answer the following research questions: 1) Dothe results support researchers’ findings that cognitive conflict and collaboration playa role in cognitive development? 2) Is there evidence that the participants relate to