Cognitive level of First Year University Science Students

McCormack, Lorraine and Finlayson, Odilla and McCloughlin, Thomas J..J. (2010) Cognitive level of First Year University Science Students. [Conference Proceedings]

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In order to engage with science and have a deep understanding of the scientific concepts, a high level of thought is necessary. This higher level thinking was deemed by Piaget as formal operational thought and according to his chronological framework of cognitive development, this type of thought begins to develop at approximately 11 years of age and peaks at 16 years of age (Piaget, 1972). However, extensive studies by Shayer have shown that by the age of 16 years very few in the British population had reached the formal operational stage (Shayer and Wylam, 1978) This study reports on the profile of Piagetian level’s of cognitive development of first year university science students. Students in their first year university are typically 18-19 years of age and should be capable of formal operational thought. Using the fourth of the series of the Science Reasoning Tasks (Wylam and Shayer, 1978), developed by the Concepts in Science and Mathematics team, the students’ cognitive level was determined. The task used was called Equilibrium in the balance and it covered a range of Piagetian levels from late concrete thought to late formal operational thought. The task was not content specific and it assessed student’s ability to recognise and use inverse proportions in the context of a simple balance beam. The Piagetian profile of the students determined indicated that 58 per cent of the cohort are in the formal operational level, with 40 per cent of this cohort at the early formal level. However, more alarming was the percentage of the cohort that has not developed formal operational thought, 42 per cent. A greater proportion of the male group were at the formal operational levels, compared with the female group. This difference was significant. The significance of this in terms of the first year curriculum should be noted.

Item Type: Conference Proceedings
Depositing User: National Forum
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2015 20:54
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2016 16:48

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