Wheeling Jesuit University

WJU Psychology Students Use Tests to Bring Theory to Life

WHEELING, W.Va., Nov. 12, 2015 -- A Wheeling Jesuit University (WJU) psychology class recently invited six children to answer a variety of questions to test how they think. The answers obtained verified that children gradually develop their cognitive skills --
which is consistent with the views of the psychologist who developed the test.

Jean Piaget, a psychologist known for his work on children's cognitive development, developed a simple conservation test that can reveal how differently children think compared to adults.

According to Piaget, conservation refers to the ability to determine that a certain quantity will remain the same despite adjustment of the container, shape or apparent size. He found that children between the ages of two and seven had more difficulty making these distinctions than older children.

During a child psychology class, WJU students had the chance to perform Piaget's conservation tests with children ranging from three and a half to 11-years-old. The tests are a way to measure the logical thinking of children by presenting tasks that looked at conservation of continuous quantities of objects, such as number, length and mass.

Dr. Julie Osland, associate professor of psychology at WJU, said, “Most of the children's answers were consistent with Piaget's ideas. He found that children's thinking improves as they mature. Simply put, children don't think the same way as adults and the testing my class did demonstrated that.”

Through a series of conservation tests, students in Osland's child psychology class used pennies (number), pencils (length), water (liquid), play dough (mass) and groupings of animals and flowers (class inclusion) to evaluate each child's cognitive development.

Pennies were used to see if the children appreciate that the number of objects in a collection remains the same regardless of whether the collection is spread out or bunched together. The younger the child, the less likely it is for them to make this distinction, Osland said.

WJU psychology major Tiffany Heckathorn said, “The class demonstration showed us how students go through the stages of development and proved that all children don't always progress according to Piaget's theory.” She noted one younger child did well on the testing, which, according to Piaget, she shouldn't have.

Similar tests were administered using the pencils, water and other items to measure the child's development levels as well.

“For my students, the exercise was more than administering a test. It gave each member of the class experience interacting with the children of various ages. The testing also allowed my students to take a theory they learned and see how well it applied to a real world situation, which is important,” Osland added.

All 21 students in the child psychology class had the chance to administer at least one test during the session.

“Working with the children allowed all of us in the class to use what we were learning and put it to use in a real world setting,” said WJU student Courtney Champ.

PHOTO CAPTION: Wheeling Jesuit student Michael Adamowski administers a conservation test to a child during a psychology class. The testing was done to teach the psychology students

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