Posts tagged ‘category-based reasoning’

August 26, 2014

Increasing Scientific Literacy Through Museum Research

by Melissa Harding

IMG_0188

Every day, scientific research is being done on any number of topics. A quick browse through PLOS One, a peer-reviewed, open-access online journal for scientific papers of all kinds, reveals topics such as: molecular threading, NaOH debittering, and elevated levels of carbon monoxide in mouse exhalations. While these are surely important topics to medicine, agriculture and other fields of study, they don’t mean very much to the average person. In fact, much of the research that goes on in science often does not make it into the popular culture; sometimes this work is very specialized, sometimes it is perceived as irrelevant, or sometimes it is difficult to understand. This results in a poor understanding of what a scientist is and does. Luckily, there are many researchers who realize this and are trying to break down the barriers between scientists and the public. The Living Laboratory, an educational, on-site research program developed at the Museum of Science, Boston, is one such organization.

In the Living Lab model, scientists in the fields of child developmental and psychological research conduct their studies at local museums, recruiting study participants from museum visitors. These researchers then work with museum educators to communicate  their work to visitors through innovative activities and one-on-one interactions with the researchers themselves. These studies occur on the museum floor, in plain view of visitors, allowing them to be drawn in to the process. Participants and viewers alike learn how science is applicable to their own lives, how research is conducted, what scientists look and act like and how to answer tough questions using the scientific method.  Studies on the effectiveness of this approach have found that watching children participate in research studies increases adult awareness of child development as a science and that one-on-one conversations between adults and scientists increase adult understanding of the scientific process and their overall scientific literacy.

TIMG_0157he Living Laboratory has been so successful that it has spawned the National Living Lab Initiative. This program has created “hubs” in regions across the country to connect museums and researchers together. In addition to The Museum of Science, Boston, the Maryland Science Center, the Madison Children’s Museum and the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry act as hub leaders, helping other museums to adopt a similar model.

At Phipps, we are working with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Cognitive Development Lab to provide a museum setting for their work.  CMU’s Cognitive Development Lab is interested in gaining a better understanding of “how children generalize knowledge they have to new situations, how children acquire language, what role language plays in knowledge generalization, how children maintain focused attention, and what role focused attention plays in acquisition of new knowledge.” They do this playing games with their subjects that are designed to take show researchers how children think and how their thinking changes with development.

Two of the games that they are currently playing with our visitors are the “Help Zippo” game and the “Perceptual Similarity” game. The first, Help Zippo, investigates how children organize plants and animals based on the relationships between them. Children are given cards with black and white pictures of plants and animals and asked to sort them onto a game board four different times. Each time, researchers are looking to see how they are grouped and whether children can group the pictures in multiple ways. The Perceptual Similarity game tests the degree to which children can use their knowledge of how objects are categorized in a situation in which they are presented with conflicting information. Children are shown a set of three pictures, two of which are similar and one of which is close, but slight different (e.g. a lemon, a lemon wedge and a yellow tennis ball). Children are told that the similar objects go together and asked to pick which two match based on physical similarity. Both of these games test category-based reasoning, but the Cognitive Development Lab also tests other topics, such as the development of focused attention during pre-school years and the effect of classroom visual environment on allocating attention and learning.

IMG_0147The games that the Cognitive Development Lab plays with children are different each time, based on the different studies that are being run. Phipps is not the only source of study participants, so the study is conducted in a secluded, quiet spot where variables like noise and stimulation can be controlled. While they watch their child participate, parents are given information on the study itself to help them understand more about the research question being investigated. This is a wonderful way for parents and children to engage with the research and, as the research questions often change quickly, there are many eager return customers.

Having researchers working in public settings, like museums and libraries, is a great way to involve families in the scientific process. Through participation in studies and interaction with scientists, visitors, researchers and museums can all benefit!

If you are a museum professional and would like to learn more about a Living Lab hub near you, check out the National Living Lab Initiative.

To learn more about the research being conducted by CMU’s Child Development Lab, check out their great website; there is also information for parents if you are local to Pittsburgh and would like to participate.

The above photos of the CMU Cognitive Development Lab team were taken by our photography intern, Cory Doman.

September 24, 2013

Research Update: What Are We Learning About Child Development So Far?

by Melissa Harding

IMG_0147

Child development researchers conducting research in museums is part of a growing trend that allows families to take part in real science being done right in front of them. Parents can watch their child engage with a researcher and participate in “capital ‘S’ Science”, learn the methods of research, interact with real scientists and learn how current research is applicable to their family life. Children can contribute to the process of scientific discovery and understand how scientists look and act . In short, having researchers in museums helps to break down barriers between the public and scientists, increasing awareness of child development as a science and overall scientific literacy.

For the past year at Phipps, we have been working with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Cognitive Development Lab to provide a museum setting for their work.  CMU’s Cognitive Development Lab is interested in gaining a better understanding of “how children generalize knowledge they have to new situations, how children acquire language, what role language plays in knowledge generalization, how children maintain focused attention, and what role focused attention plays in acquisition of new knowledge.” So now is the time to ask, what kind of understanding has their research gained and how can it be used?

Several of the games that researchers have been playing at Phipps have been testing category-based reasoning. You may remember them from this previous article on research in museums:

IMG_0182The first, a pictures game conducted by doctoral student Karrie Godwin, investigates the factors that influence young children’s ability to make inductive inferences, or guesses based on probable connections. In particular, this study was interested in understanding the part that a child’s category knowledge and their perceptual knowledge (their perceived ideas of the similarities of objects) play in their inductive reasoning. In this study, children were shown three pictures – a target (or the category choice) and two test items that were potentially related to the target. For example, children might be shown a grey, fluffy-tailed cat as their target and then given the choice between an orange kitten or a fluffy, grey raccoon. The kitten matches the category of “cat”, which is a category-based match, while the raccoon looks very similar to the picture of the target and could be perceived to be the same, which is a perceptual match.  The children learn that the target object has a fictional property inside (e.g. fisp cells); they are then asked which of the other items they think has the same property as the target.

Results: The study results found that while 3 and 4-year olds are equally likely to pick either item, 5-year olds were more likely to pick the category match. This suggest that when it is difficult to differential between the given conceptual (previous category knowledge) and perceptual information (what they learn from their senses), young children are unable to resolve that difficulty. However, their ability to tell the difference improves between pre-school and kindergarten.
These findings were recently presented at the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society; Data collection from 2-year-old children is currently in progress.

The second category-based game, also conducted by doctoral student Karrie Godwin, is a game of synonyms. This study investigates how 4-year old children learn and reason with objects that are semantically similar (synonyms).   In this study, children were told about three objects hiding behind three doors, a target item and two test items. One of the target items was semantically similar and one was a lure, or a false answer. For example, if the target was “rock”, then a semantically similar item would be “stone”; sometimes the lure was semantically close, like “grass”, and sometimes it was semantically distant, like “boat”. As in the above study, the children are told that the target object has a fictional property inside and are then asked which of the other items they think has the same property as the target.

Results: When the lure was distant, children were more likely to differentiate the semantically similar item from lure than when the lure was closely related. This indicates that children are beginning to show some sensitivity to synonyms. Data collection for this study is on-going. To learn more, you can read a paper reporting results of a related study.

IMG_0157The last game that researchers played with our visitors also involved semantic development. This study, conducted by doctoral student Layla Unger, investigated the ways that children organize plants and animals based on a variety of different relationships between them. For example, there are many ways to organize a group of animals – where they live, what size they are, what color they are, what sounds they make, etc. This study was interested in understanding how easily children can go from only recognizing obvious relationships (physical attributes) to recognizing more subtle ones (biological grouping); it was also interested in whether a child can recognize that objects have a range of different relationships. Children played the Help Zibbo Game, in which they help Zibbo the Zookeeper organize plants and animals in his zoo. Using a grid to represent the zoo, children placed blocks representing different animals and plants on the game board based on their ideas of how they should be categorized. Researchers measured how close or far away children placed the pieces.

Results: Preliminary finding suggest that as soon as children can recognize relationships between items, they are able to understand those that are both easily observed and those that are more subtle. This research is still ongoing.

While it may seem that a lot of this research is looking for incredibly specific outcomes, there are many ways to generalize this knowledge. Category-based reasoning is important in the cognitive abilities of both adults and children; it is the base of much of our learning and functioning in life. Learning how children develop this skill helps us to better understand how they develop more complex social and cognitive skills, such as interacting with others and learning language. In addition, understanding how children categorize and reason is important for teachers because the more we can learn about how children develop, the better teachers we can be and the more developmentally appropriate curriculum can become. Parents can benefit from this information as well; developmental knowledge is helpful in understanding the actions and reactions of your child, as well as how to effectively communicate across the developmental divide.

Phipps is very excited to host the Cognitive Development Lab in the Conservatory for a second year, as well as to extend our partnership to other labs within the local area who are investigating similar ideas. We are proud to be contributing to an increase of knowledge and understanding and are looking forward to another great year of learning!

There is much more being done at the Cognitive Development Lab than talked about here; to learn more about the research being conducted by CMU’s Child Development Lab and all the great folks who do the research, check out their great website.

If you are local to Pittsburgh and would like to participate, check out this information for parents!

To read more about the importance of research in museums, check out this great post.

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman.

September 3, 2013

Increasing Scientific Literacy Through Museum Research

by Melissa Harding

IMG_0188

Every day, scientific research is being done on any number of topics. A quick browse through PLOS One, a peer-reviewed, open-access online journal for scientific papers of all kinds, reveals topics such as: molecular threading, NaOH debittering, and elevated levels of carbon monoxide in mouse exhalations. While these are surely important topics to medicine, agriculture and other fields of study, they don’t mean very much to the average person. In fact, much of the research that goes on in science often does not make it into the popular culture; sometimes this work is very specialized, sometimes it is perceived as irrelevant, or sometimes it is difficult to understand. This results in a poor understanding of what a scientist is and does. Luckily, there are many researchers who realize this and are trying to break down the barriers between scientists and the public. The Living Laboratory, an educational, on-site research program developed at the Museum of Science, Boston, is one such organization.

In the Living Lab model, scientists in the fields of child developmental and psychological research conduct their studies at local museums, recruiting study participants from museum visitors. These researchers then work with museum educators to communicate  their work to visitors through innovative activities and one-on-one interactions with the researchers themselves. These studies occur on the museum floor, in plain view of visitors, allowing them to be drawn in to the process. Participants and viewers alike learn how science is applicable to their own lives, how research is conducted, what scientists look and act like and how to answer tough questions using the scientific method.  Studies on the effectiveness of this approach have found that watching children participate in research studies increases adult awareness of child development as a science and that one-on-one conversations between adults and scientists increase adult understanding of the scientific process and their overall scientific literacy.

TIMG_0157he Living Laboratory has been so successful that it has spawned the National Living Lab Initiative. This program has created “hubs” in regions across the country to connect museums and researchers together. In addition to The Museum of Science, Boston, the Maryland Science Center, the Madison Children’s Museum and the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry act as hub leaders, helping other museums to adopt a similar model.

At Phipps, we are working with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Cognitive Development Lab to provide a museum setting for their work.  CMU’s Cognitive Development Lab is interested in gaining a better understanding of “how children generalize knowledge they have to new situations, how children acquire language, what role language plays in knowledge generalization, how children maintain focused attention, and what role focused attention plays in acquisition of new knowledge.” They do this playing games with their subjects that are designed to take show researchers how children think and how their thinking changes with development.

Two of the games that they are currently playing with our visitors are the “Help Zippo” game and the “Perceptual Similarity” game. The first, Help Zippo, investigates how children organize plants and animals based on the relationships between them. Children are given cards with black and white pictures of plants and animals and asked to sort them onto a game board four different times. Each time, researchers are looking to see how they are grouped and whether children can group the pictures in multiple ways. The Perceptual Similarity game tests the degree to which children can use their knowledge of how objects are categorized in a situation in which they are presented with conflicting information. Children are shown a set of three pictures, two of which are similar and one of which is close, but slight different (e.g. a lemon, a lemon wedge and a yellow tennis ball). Children are told that the similar objects go together and asked to pick which two match based on physical similarity. Both of these games test category-based reasoning, but the Cognitive Development Lab also tests other topics, such as the development of focused attention during pre-school years and the effect of classroom visual environment on allocating attention and learning.

IMG_0147The games that the Cognitive Development Lab plays with children are different each time, based on the different studies that are being run. Phipps is not the only source of study participants, so the study is conducted in a secluded, quiet spot where variables like noise and stimulation can be controlled. While they watch their child participate, parents are given information on the study itself to help them understand more about the research question being investigated. This is a wonderful way for parents and children to engage with the research and, as the research questions often change quickly, there are many eager return customers.

Having researchers working in public settings, like museums and libraries, is a great way to involve families in the scientific process. Through participation in studies and interaction with scientists, visitors, researchers and museums can all benefit!

If you are a museum professional and would like to learn more about a Living Lab hub near you, check out the National Living Lab Initiative.

To learn more about the research being conducted by CMU’s Child Development Lab, check out their great website; there is also information for parents if you are local to Pittsburgh and would like to participate.

The above photos of the CMU Cognitive Development Lab team were taken by our photography intern, Cory Doman.

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