Children teach University researchers a thing or two

   
   
   summerscience
05 Jul 2011 18:29:00.657
27 June 2011

PA202/11 

Children from across Nottinghamshire are invited to become scientists for the day at the fifth annual Summer Scientist Week at The University of Nottingham. 

A group of four to 11-year-olds will help researchers understand how humans learn by taking part in a series of fun, interactive activities between Monday 8 and Friday 12 August. 

Nearly 300 people attended last year’s event, compared to the 50 who turned up for the first event in 2007.

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Organiser Dr Lucy Cragg is thrilled at how popular it has become: “Summer Scientist Week is fun and informative for both children and parents and I think that’s why families come back year after year.”  

In a follow-up survey of parents, 100% of respondents said they would recommend the event to a friend, and 84% said it had improved their understanding of psychology and research at the University. 

This year, the University’s unique MIRAGE technology – which recently gave researchers a breakthrough in possible treatments for arthritis – will be used to study children’s perception of body image and how the brain puts together what we see and feel. 

The technology – which takes a real-time video capture image of the hand and uses computer manipulations to fool the brain into thinking the hand is stretching or shrinking, etc. In Stretch Armstrong, children will be asked to reach out and touch objects, such as a wooden block or their other. Their reactions to their hands ‘stretching/shrinking’ will be monitored by recording electrical signals from their fingers with a stick-on electronic device. 

Dr Roger Newport, who is leading the research, said: “The illusions really capture their imagination and they think it’s a cool trick and can become a bit obsessed with working out how we do it.”

Other research projects this year include: 

Marble Maths

Some scientists believe that a child’s ability to add and compare groups of dots is related to their achievement in school mathematics. These dot tasks have proved to be unreliable in adults and we would like to find out whether this is also true in children. If the tasks were unreliable, it would be misleading to predict a child’s grades or design any educational interventions based on performance in the tasks. 

Sort Those Shapes!

Being able to concentrate on a task while ignoring distracting information is an important skill. But is it more difficult to focus attention so you don’t notice the distraction, or to suppress the impulse to respond to it? Children will play a computer game where they will have to choose the correct colour associated with the correct button while ignoring the other colours on the screen. 

Hide and Seek

Objects are more likely to be found in some places than in others; for example, you wouldn’t look at the ceiling when searching for your keys. This study looks at how children learn about regularities. Using a touchscreen monitor, children will search an array of items for a hidden target. By looking at their search behaviour we can see how quickly children of different ages learn where to search. 

Movie Makers

Children may mimic some communication skills they see on TV, but merely watching TV doesn’t seem to be an effective way of learning, as they are watching for entertainment. A software tool has been developed which allows the children to make character animation in a cartoon, while learning vital communication skills. 

Copy Cat

How do children decide which actions are necessary to achieve a particular goal? Research has shown that if a child watches his mother performing a series of actions to make a toy work, he is likely to copy all of the actions he sees, even if some of them aren’t necessary. For example, winding the handle of a toy car and setting it on the ground are necessary but tapping it twice on the roof isn’t. Nevertheless, the child is still likely to tap the car before letting it go if he has seen someone else doing it.  The study seeks to find out at what age children stop imitating unnecessary actions and whether we can influence how much they do this.

All of the studies will be run by experienced researchers from the School of Psychology and the Learning Sciences Research Institute and have been approved by the University’s ethics committee.

Summer Scientist Week takes place from Monday 8 to Friday 12 August. The activities, at the Exchange Building on Jubilee Campus, will run from 9.30am to 12.30pm, and 1pm to 4pm, each day of the week. Parents and/or guardians must accompany their children to the session. 

Advance booking is required. For more information, a description of the research studies or to book a half-day place, contact the Summer Scientist team on 0115 95 15316, or visit www.summerscientist.org

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Lucy Cragg lucy.cragg@nottingham.ac.uk or Karen Shale, Internal Communications Manager at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 8468545  karen.shale@nottingham.ac.uk
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Email: communications@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5765 Location: King's Meadow Campus

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