Examples of Piagetian Assimilation and Accommodation

Examples of Piagetian Assimilation and Accommodation
1. A child seeing a zebra for the first time and calling it a horse. The child
assimilates this information into her schema for a horse. When the child
accommodates information, she takes into consideration the different properties of
a zebra compared to a horse, perhaps calling a zebra a horse with stripes. When
she eventually learns the name of zebra, she has accommodated this information.
2. A mental representation, or schema of a certain group of people (a racist schema)
-- your whole life you grew up with those around you just adding more and more
information to that schema that made sense to you (assimilation) -- you only
notice information that fits your schema (assimilation) and confirms it -- then you
get to college and actually meet people from that group and realize what you have
learned from real interactions requires a radical reorganization of your schema
regarding that group (accommodation). Your new schema is completely different,
not just full of additional information
3. Assimilation is like adding air into a balloon. You just keep blowing it up. It gets
bigger and bigger. For example, a two year old's schema of a tree is "green and
big with bark" -- over time the child adds information (some trees lose their
leaves, some trees have names, we use a tree at Christmas, etc.) - Your balloon
just gets full of more information that fits neatly with what you know and adds
onto it.
Accommodation is when you have to turn your round balloon into the shape of a
poodle. This new balloon "animal" is a radical shift in your schema (or balloon
shape). The tree example works well where we live so I go with that, but you can
invent your own. Now that they are in college in the redwood forest, we have
conceptualization (schema) of trees as a source of political warfare, a commodity,
a source of income for some people, we know that people sit and live in trees to
save them; in other words, trees are economic, political, and social vehicles. This
complete change in the schema involves a lot of cognitive energy, or
accommodation, a shift in our schema.
4. Most students are very good at working with computers and easily learn to
navigate new websites and programs (assimilation). My college is putting heavy
emphasis on distance learning and the computer literate students who enroll in my
online classes seem to have an early advantage (accommodation) over students
who are limited in their computer experiences. Thankfully, this advantage
lessens over the weeks, but I, as the instructor, have to keep this gap in mind early
in the course.
5. Young children can go from riding a big wheel to riding a tricycle with no
problem--they can assimilate--it is 'sort of the same'; but to go to a bicycle there is
much accommodation that must take place.
6. I've usually got three or four kinds of chairs in my class and I go to each one and
sit in it to illustrate assimilation. I then sit on the corner of my desk or one of the
kid's desks and use that as a jumping off point to talk about accommodation. I
also want to elicit differences in similarly categorized items (such as fact that
some desks have drawers and some do not). I usually will have some kind of a
roll cart and I ask them why it isn't a desk. They will usually say because of the
rollers but then I point out that some desks are moveable. I think it might also be
pertinent to let students know that we cannot define something solely by function
either since I have just recently been sitting on my desk. I want kids to understand
that the categorizations can be a little arbitrary but we nevertheless come to
common understandings about them.
7. When a child learns the word for dog, they start to call all four-legged animals
dogs. This is assimilation. People around them will say, no, that's not a dog, it's a
cat. The schema for dog then gets modified to restrict it to only certain fourlegged animals. That is accommodation.
8. A child learns his father is called Daddy, so he calls other males ( e.g. the
mailman) Daddy. This is assimilation. He is quickly told that the other man is not
Daddy, he is _______. Again, the schema for Daddy is modified. This is
9. A child believes that "All furry four legged animals are dogs". He sees a breed of
dog that he's never seen before and says, "That's a dog." That's assimilation. Then
the child sees a raccoon (or a cat, squirrel whatever) and the child says, "That's a
dog." But his parents tell him it isn't a dog, it's a raccoon. So the child
accommodates, "Not all furry four legged animals are dogs, some are raccoons."
10. You can do the same type of example with the belief that all things that float are
boats using a catamaran for assimilation and a leaf floating on the water for
11. My own son, then 3 years old at the time. We were out shopping and three trucks
drive by, two 18-wheelers, and a smaller truck. "Look", my son says, "a daddy
truck, a mommy truck and a baby truck." Is this assimilation or accommodation?
Explain why.
12. Use photos of babies sucking on various styles of bottles as an example of
assimilation with pretty easy adaptation to different shaped nipples and bottles.
But the first time they try that sucking schema on a sippy cup with a much larger
opening the choking and mess usually bring about pretty rapid accommodation.
13. If you come to my house for the weekend, we could assimilate you into our
household by having you follow our routine--you'll get up at 5:30, watch Mr.
Rogers and Sesame Street on TV, and have cheerios for breakfast. If we
accommodate to you instead, we'll all get up at noon, watch Oprah, and have cold
pizza for breakfast (assuming that's your usual routine).
14. Sometimes I pass out 2 new flavors of lifesavers to the class. All but a few of the
international students seem to have a well-developed schema for lifesavers candy
which over the years has expanded from the original 5 flavors to include many
other (but mostly fruity) flavors. So a new fruity flavor like mango or cantaloupe
is pretty easily assimilated. But when they try the Musk lifesavers I order from
Australia - what a difference! Is this a candy or a perfume? Am I eating a
fragrance? Most decide these Pepto-Bismol pink lifesavers have no business in
the candy category
15. When you take in new information and try to understand it using a schema you
already have, you are assimilating that information into your current way of
thinking. We don't, however, accommodate information--we accommodate TO it
by changing the way we think. That is, when your current way of thinking doesn't
help, you need to accommodate your current schema, or accommodate TO the
new information by developing a new schema.
16. One example was given to me by a student and I use it because it makes sense. It
makes Piaget's theory very concrete, but it helps students to better grasp the
concepts. The student visualized a schema as a "cubby hole" (where we stored
our things in preschool). When we encounter information in our environment that
makes sense to us, it fits in our cubby hole; we assimilate the information. When
we encounter information in our environment that doesn't make sense, we are
forced to alter our cubby hole or build a new one (accommodate). To help them
remember the difference I point out that assimilate has two s's -- same schema;
accommodate has two c's -- change or create a new schema.
17. When I discuss assimilation and accommodation I use 9/11 as an example. I talk
about the schema that most people had when the first plane hit the tower (an
accident). So, we assimilated that information. In fact, watching documentaries
of 9/11 they show the Today show hosts discussing the "accident" after the first
plane hit. When the second plane hit the tower, we were forced to accommodate
the information that this wasn't an accident. For most individuals this was very
difficult to accommodate, so people watched it over and over again on the news
trying to make sense of it.
18. My students relate well to this example. They often will talk about how they
thought they were watching a movie when the first saw it on TV (they had a
schema for this type of violence -- a movie) and their brains tried to assimilate
that info. Now, however, if a plane crashes into a building the first assumption is
usually terrorism (the media will even speculate about this first). This is because
we now have a schema for terrorism in our country and we assimilate these types
of activities into that schema.
19. I talk about how for a baby any new object is something to put in their mouth, but
they gradually learn how new are to be used.
20. Another example I use involves a house that blew up in our community due to a
gas leak. We live in a small community and most people heard the explosion. It
is very interesting asking people what they thought when they heard the
explosion. Individuals who had served in wars thought there had been a bomb
(schema for that type of sound was for a bomb). Some of my students thought it
was a meth lab exploding (I am not sure we have a large meth lab problem, but an
interesting schema nonetheless). Others thought there was a car accident because
they had heard such a noise before when they had seen a car accident. We then
talk about how they had to accommodate the information that it was actually a
house that exploded. I had some students who lived near the house and they
talked about how whenever they now hear a loud noise, they get anxious thinking
it is an explosion.
21. When I was growing up my parents believed that tattoos were bad, so I created a
schema for people with tattoos. I assimilated such information as "probably rides
a motorcycle," "is dirty," and "probably has been in jail" into this schema during
my childhood (because that's what my parents said). When I got to college, I met
a lot of people with tattoos who did not fit into my schema, and thus had to do
some accommodation to accept those people.
22. Warning: this example is gross but students remember it well*
When a small child first learns that they have "stuff" in their diaper and they
figure out how to get TO that "stuff" by themselves, they start testing the "stuff"
and figure out its properties. They can create a "poo schema" as my husband
jokingly refers to it, and they begin to assimilate new info into this schema: it can
fly, it can be used as finger paint, etc. Hopefully, once the parent works with
them on potty training, they will change - they will now become the child that
stands in front of the toilet and says "ew, stinky" just like their Mom does. This
would demonstrate accommodating.
23. I do something similar to the tree example. I show a picture of a good old generic
tree (usually an oak). As children they learn that this is a tree and we talk about
developing a tree schema (leaves on top, tall, brown trunk, leaves fall off). I then
show a palm tree and explain how you now have to assimilate this new tree into
your tree schema. I then show an evergreen which they've also had to assimilate
into their schema. Finally I show a picture of a banyan tree. Most of my students
(trapped in Utah) have never seen or heard of a banyan tree and I spend a few
minutes telling them about banyans. I tell them they have now accommodated
this tree into their tree schema. Now trees don't just grow up, but spread out and
grow down.
24. I use the example from the Disney movie Bambi. When Thumper is taking the
young Bambi through the forest teaching him the names of different objects, they
come across a field of flowers. As Bambi is sniffing the flowers, a skunk pops up
out of the flowers. Bambi exclaims, "Flower!" Thumper cracks up, telling him
that the skunk is not a flower. The skunk shyly says that Bambi can call him
"flower" if he wants to. I tell them that Bambi tried to assimilate the skunk into
his schema of flower, since he associated the skunk with the field of flowers. We
also talk about how that is not a realistic example of assimilation since most
children don't confuse animals with plants.
25. Use Leo Leonni's story "Fish is Fish." This happens to be a favorite of mine, so I
was intrigued to see it used as a way to teach Piaget. In this story, a young fish
and tadpole are friends. The tadpole becomes a frog and leaves the pond. When he
comes back, he describes the world outside the pond to his friend the fish. He
describes birds, cows and people to the fish.
The relevant point is that the fish, which has never seen a cow or a person, takes
the frogs descriptions and imagines them. He sees the bird as a fish with wings,
and a cow as a fish with legs, etc. In other words, he assimilates the information
into established schemes.
If you go to the Amazon website, you can see the front cover to get an
idea of the story. Here's the link:
26. A child believes that "All furry four legged animals are dogs". He sees a breed of
dog that he's never seen before and says, "That's a dog." That's assimilation. Then
the child sees a raccoon (or a cat, squirrel whatever) and the child says, "That's a
dog." But his parents tell him it isn't a dog, it's a raccoon. So the child