How do we learn in the Classroom? Piaget and Dynamic Systems.

While watching a class presentation, with the teacher droning on, the feeling of wanting to put the foot on the accelerator was very strong. The presentation was in great detail and covered every possible contingency the student may come across when creating a Blog with Google Blogger. The presentation was

very nicely sequenced but went on for about 1hour and 10min.

During this time the students became totally disengaged, some opened their computers and looked at previous work on the topic and then surreptitiously started doing other subject work, or playing games. The teacher stayed at the front of the not one mind was challenged class and continued on and eventually some students placed their heads in their hands and closed their eyes. From the description it can be understood that the students were exceptionally well behaved, from the students there was a passive acceptance of the situation and not one mind was challenged.

There are several things that could be commented upon, especially with a group of high performing 17 year olds preparing for university. All but 3 of the students had been showing evidence of changing from concrete thinkers to formal thinkers according to Piaget’s developmental stages.


Or in the case of the Dynamic Systems Theories none of the constructs the students already had in their heads were being challenged.

All of the students were capable of moving into the project and be active learners within the first few minutes of the presentation. The content of the presentation was knowledge based and in this case the students mostly knew the content and understood it from previous work.

Piaget’s research is very handy to give some guidelines as to the type of work we should be presenting to different students. It would be appropriate as a quick reminder and to establish a starting point; to present this student group with concrete information. The teacher could then quickly move into discussion about what is going to happen with the software and what sort of thinking could be expected from the students. Certainly presenting this type of low level concrete information to a formal thinking group of students is going to be fraught with interesting consequences. In this case the consequence was a totally disengaged class and over an hour of valuable class time lost.

We can reflect back to the dynamic systems approach again where Lewis (2000) is quoted in Wikipedia about the mind reaching a state of ‘disequilibrium where old patterns have broken down’ this was not occurring in our above example therefore the next stage of ‘phase transition’ was not entered so there were no links stimulated to ’form a new state of mind through scalloping’.

When students are exposed to the above type of teacher centred environment they become passive receivers of knowledge as opposed to active learners. passive receivers of knowledge as opposed to active learners This class could have been exposed to a barrage of questions such as how are you going to show evidence on a blog? What form can the blog take? How can you present your blog in 3 different genres? What should a reader feel when they see your blog? (excitement, relief, happiness, love, pain, hate, peace, having learnt). What are you going to do on your blog that makes it different from the other several thousand blogs on the same topic? Why should people look at page two of your portfolio?

The teacher could spend 10 minutes explaining the starting point and the students could be directed to ask questions if there is something they are not sure of. This class of formal thinkers is very capable of searching Google for answers to simple question but like students all over the world they will tend to be a little lazy and have learnt from very early school if they wait long enough someone will give them the answer so they don’t have to do any work or thinking for themselves especially while they are being spoon fed.


The Born to Learn  video at the website exemplifies the issues.



Lewis, Mark D. (2000-02-25). "The Promise of Dynamic Systems Approaches for an Integrated Account of Human Development" (PDF). Child Development 71 (1): 36–43. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00116. PMID 10836556. Retrieved 2008-04-04.  

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SASKIA KUNNEN AND PAUL VAN GEERT (2012) a-dynamic-systems-approach-to-adolescent-development First published 2012 by Psychology Press [Last viewed 23-06-2013]



ESTHER THELEN and LINDA B. SMITH (2006) CHAPTER 6 Dynamic Systems Theories Last viewed 22-06-2013

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