Cognitive development in science

Do all students think about the world in the same way? The following video shows how cognitive ability varies with age. It is important science teachers are aware of these Piagetian stages so lessons effectively support students to move between cognitive levels. Piaget recognised that children must be presented with an experience that challenges their current understanding if they are to move through the stages and construct new understanding. This ‘surprise’ or cognitive conflict will help children progress their thinking as they reorganise their mental structures to accommodate the new information.

The four Piagetian stages of cognitive development

  1. Sensorimotor (0-2yrs)
  2. Preoperational (2-7yrs)
  3. Concrete operational (7-11yrs)
  4. Formal operational (11-adulthood)

Cognitive Development through Science Education (CASE)

Let’s think is the new platform to access resources from the original Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (CASE) project at King’s College London, led by Michael Shayer and the late Philip Adey. These resources use a constructivist approach that focuses on questioning, collaborative work, problem solving, independent learning, metacognition and challenge. There is also an excellent video here on how to implement CASE in the classroom.

Further reading
  • Adey, P. and M. Shayer (1990). “Accelerating the development of formal thinking in middle and high school students.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27(3): 267-285.
  • Piaget, J. and Cook, M.T. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children, WW Norton & Co.
  1. Cognitive development
  2. Diagnostic science teaching 
  3. Motivation in science 
  4. Misconceptions and conceptual change
  5. Deep learning in science teaching