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Page history last edited by Sue Frantz 10 years ago

Schemas: Assimilation & Accommodation Demonstration (Original: Sue Frantz) 


For explaining assimilation and accommodation, use musk lifesavers (order here). Begin by asking students to name candy flavors (list on board) and then name scents, like deodorant or incense (also list on board).  In the U.S., musk (usually) is named as a scent but not a candy flavor.  Then announce that in Australia, musk is a candy flavor.  Pass out the lifesavers, and listen for the reactions. "It's like I sprayed perfume in my mouth."  "It tastes like soap." My favorite: "It's like licking someone's armpit." Assimilation: They change the lifesaver (it's not candy) so it fits a different schema (perfume, soap, or armpits). Accommodation: Over repeated exposure to musk lifesavers, they may come to change their candy schema so that it contains 'musk.'


Schemas: Examples of Assimilation & Accommodation (Original: PsychTeacher listserv) 


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 her schema to  fit this information. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.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 four-legged animals.  That  is accommodation.


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  accommodation.


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."


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  accommodation. 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.


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. 


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).


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.


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.


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.


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 towe r, 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. 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.


I talk about how for a baby any new object is something to put in their mouth, but they gradually  learn how new objects are to be used.


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.


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.


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 "poop 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.


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.


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.


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.



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