(This blog post was originally written on July 14.)
The four weeks of June passed by in a blur of sunscreen, pools, and Teddy Grahams. Now, I am sitting in the office of the Children’s School with my notes of the memory games that the children played with me, my laptop open to Google Docs, and my iPad channeled in to watch Wimbledon as I read more papers and cheer for Rafa Nadal (Update: since I started drafting this post he lost a valiant battle in the Round of 16). Summer camp has reached the end, and now I am working to determine the focus and methods of my research project with two weeks left in Pittsburgh; unfortunately, playtime is over.
Looking at all the notes I took about what the children said and did while playing the memory games, I became convinced that they could learn and start to use memory strategies in a shorter amount of time than I anticipated. The children had many choices of activities during their time outside, and even I found myself wishing I could make a wooden bee at the woodworking station. Having all these other fun activities available meant that their time spent playing games with me was sporadic, and some children only played once or twice throughout the weeks of camp. However, with the children who came to play with me every day, I saw some developments in their playing strategies in the few weeks I had with them.
Per Dr. Carver’s suggestion, I talked naturally to the children to see what sort of prompting phrases I would use to help them remember items during game play. I asked a lot of questions such as, “Have we seen this card before?” or ” What was on this card?”. Based on their response, on the next turn I might ask, “Where have we seen this card before?” to encourage them to think of the matching card to successfully get the pair. The purpose of everything I say during the games is to help the children rehearse the information they have been exposed to previously, and also to help them pick out the important pieces of information to remember in the future. Children were always coming and going in the middle of games, and because of all the excitement happening, I didn’t expect them to pay much attention to what I said. Instead, in the last week of camp, I saw that the children who spend the most time playing games with me started asking the same questions, whether it was to themselves or to others playing the game. It seems like they were picking up on what they should pay attention to in order to remember the cards better.
The children’s competitiveness also played a role in their performance. When there was a larger group of children, I sometimes emphasized that we had to work together to find all the matching pairs, trying to avoid conflicts or hurt feelings. They reminded other players of what they were supposed to be looking for, and often made suggestions about where they thought the matching card was. On the other hand, when there were only one or two children playing with me, I sometimes competed against them to slightly change the objective of the game. I would still ask them for advice on where to go, but now that there was a competition, many of them would actually point me to the wrong card, and would then proceed to make the correct match on their next turn, showing that they knew both where the correct card was, and also where it was not. It was also quite entertaining to see their smug faces when they successfully “tricked” me. I’d like to say that I always lost to them purposely, but a few extraordinary children, in their own words, “took a picture of the cards in their brain”, and promptly defeated me before I could put any strategies to good use.
I was surprised to see that both competition and cooperation helped focus attention on the game, improving memory of the cards and performance in the game. That may prove to be another interesting condition to explore, time permitting. As the end of my fellowship period draws nearer, my research project is slowly beginning to take shape. The focus will most likely be on introducing strategies to the children to use during the memory games. Expanding from matching games, the intervention games will cover the four ways that information is processed and stored in memory detailed in A Mind at a Time: pairs, procedures, categories, and rules and patterns. Such games will include a picture recall game, and a sequence of actions game, where children will have to remember and perform a series of different actions in order.
The next immediate step is forming a coherent proposal to send to the IRB for approval (as well as learning to navigate the IRB’s online form). Beyond that, I am working on organizing the literature review I have done so far into an introduction section, and also preparing some presentations for the coming weeks. While some Dietrich Honors Fellows are just getting started in Pittsburgh, I feel like I am in the home stretch for the summer. Seagull the hedgehog is getting ready to go to New Jersey for the first time, and pretty soon I will be preparing for the semester of a lifetime.