Conservation: The understanding that something stays the same in quantity even though its appearance changes. To be more technical (but you don’t have to be) conservation is the ability to understand that redistributing material does not affect its mass, number or volume.
Conservation refers to a logical thinking ability which, according to the psychologist Jean Piaget becomes evident in children aged 7–12 during the concrete operations stage of their development. It is part of Piaget's theory of cognitive development.
We did this in my year three class today. (that’s second grade to my US peeps) and I am sad to say that I still struggle with this. I *know* logically that the short fat container is 1 litre and so is the tall thin container (because they are both clearly marked 1000ml) and yet, I had to run a quick test as I was gathering the materials for the teacher because I had a lingering doubt that it would work. The short fat container seemed so small and the tall was really tall. I did a quick test of filling the small one with water and transferring the water to the tall one. Needless to say, it worked and I was secretly amazed because I was sure it wouldn’t. I am sure all of the rest of you over the age of 7 probably figured that out, but somehow I am perpetually in that childhood category.
When I was doing my teacher training we had to run the conservation test on three groups of children. The youngest were about age 5 and were certain that both containers were different and the same water would not fill both. Even after you showed them they still maintained the containers were different capacities.
The middle group were about 7 years old and at first believed that the containers did not show the same amount of water, but after you showed them they believed and it. This is where I am. With the 7 year olds.
The last group were 10 or 11 years old. They looked at me like I was incredibly stupid when I asked them about the capacity of both containers. Of course they were the same. They both held the same number of ounces. It didn’t matter about the size or shape of the container. Did I not know that? they seemed to ask with their world weary gaze. I tried to explain that younger people believed that the size and shape of the container mattered, but they were having none of it. Every child swore they had never been so naïve.
So there we are. Conservation. A skill that has passed me by. Sigh…..it is a good thing I work in year three.