Active Assimilation

Considering Piagetian theory, I’m intrigued by the notion of assimilation as an active, not passive component of the constructivist learning process for two reasons:  The parallels of assimilation to biological neural pathways, and the uneduced consideration of fleeting interest.

1.  The parallels of Assimilation to Biological Neural Pathways

Somiedo, Asturias, Spain; by my friend Larry Derdane
Active pathways are well myelinated

“A structure actively seeks to relate to aspects of the environment that provide context for its functioning.  Thus, we refer to the act of assimilation rather than to a passive reception of information from the environment” (Clement, 1977, unpublished dissertation, p. 18).  To continue the anthropomorfic theme, is this to say our schemata actively seek out validation in order to insure their own existence?  Do mental structures wane if inactive as do neuropathways?  Active nueoropathways of the brain wax with myelination the more they are used (Center for Educational Research and Innovation, 2007).  Is learning deeply a matter of man’s necessity to wax knowledge, to strengthen neuropathways?    Current science tells us that inactive neuropathways wane, until they no longer exist.  Are they just accommodated into other pathways, like Piagetian mental constructs are accommodated as new information is integrated into our mental models?

New neurons are born and new connections are formed throughout life, and as the brain processes information from the environment, the most active connections are strengthened and the least active are weakened. Over time, inactive connections become weaker and weaker and, when all of a neuron’s connections become persistently inactive, the cell itself can die. At the same time, active connections are strengthened. Through these mechanisms, the brain is tailored to fit the environment.  (Center for Educational Research and Innovation, 2007, p. 42).

2.   The Uneduced Consideration of Fleeting Interest in Piagetian Theory

Winter Cardinal, Birdie Champ, 2011What makes us interested in something?  Standing by the window, we might turn our heads to look at a flash of a cardinal’s red feathers against white snow at our winter feeder.  Human interest originates from exposure to an environment, often referred to as a person-object relation (Krapp et al., 1992). These nascent interests are situational, and can be suddenly evoked as a response to a stimulus; this is referred to as a person-stimulus reaction (Krapp et al., 1992, Hidi, 2006). Short-term situational interest in a red bird against a snowy backdrop can be fleeting, with a marginal affect on our learning and cognition about birds, but how does this tie to the Piagetian construct of ACTIVE assimilation?  Is fleeting interest just a biological reflex?  Can situational interest be considered an assimilation, since it is not an active event on the part of the viewer?

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