Research is child’s play

January 14th, 2011

This year’s Summer Scientist Week again allowed researchers to discover more about how children develop and learn. Researchers and students from the Human Development and Learning Group in the School of Psychology and the Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI) worked with the local community.

The event has grown rapidly since its launch in 2007; many of this year’s families had either been before or came on the recommendation of a friend. The event was attended by 278 four to 11-year-olds and their parents.

Children took part in fun exercises, such as The Great Cake Switch, Millions of Marbles, Crack the Code and Imagine That. In Millions of Marbles, researchers investigated how four to six-year-olds understand numbers presented in different ways, for example, “FIVE”, “5” and “…..”. Children had to decide which of two characters had the most marbles, with quantities shown in different ways.

The data helped researchers understand how children connect digits to approximate quantities. In Imagine That, children learned the location of objects in a room with a central character.

Researchers assessed their memory for the locations and asked them to imagine the character turning to face the objects.

Researchers wanted to know whether children constructed a mental image of the room from their own perspective or from an imagined perspective of the central character. Responses indicated that children spontaneously slipped into the shoes of the character, which takes a huge step further in understanding imaged scenes and helps explain how children are very good at this.

A total of 91 families responded to a follow-up questionnaire, representing 140 of the children who attended, with 73 per cent rating the experience as “very positive” and 27 per cent “positive”; 100 per cent would recommend the event to a friend and 84 per cent said it had improved their understanding of psychology and research.

The organising committee was helped by three undergraduates on intern placements — one Nottingham student supported by the Alumni Annual Fund and two from Loughborough University by widening participation internships from the School of Psychology. This allowed researchers to collect additional background information about the children to complement the research data and provided the students with work experience and an insight into a research career.

The week was supported by a grant from the University’s Annual Funds, contributions from the School of Psychology, LSRI, MRC Institute of Hearing Research and Bayard Magazines. One eight-year-old said: “We really enjoyed it, all the activities no matter how long they were! I can’t wait for next year!”

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