Author: lalathefish22

Hello from South Korea!

I am currently sitting in a nice hotel writing this blog post, jet lagged but amazingly excited. There hasn’t been a lot of progress on my thesis project since my last post, but this is the post that I have been most excited about all summer. After 24 hours of traveling and 19 total hours sitting on a plane, I am in Seoul, South Korea, and enjoying the exploration time before the semester starts.

Regarding my thesis project, I finished and submitted the IRB form a few days before I left. I also put the finishing touches on the games, namely collecting the objects for the Objects on a Table game, with some plastic vehicles and wooden animals. All the games made it safely to Korea with me, and I have been told that my project has gotten approved by the department in the school I contacted to do the study. Now I am focusing on working out my course schedule for the semester so that I will have time to go to the school and spend time playing the games with children. Basically, I am nearly ready to start running the study with children, and I soon will be sitting in cafes drinking tea and typing parts of the thesis paper.

Between working out the details of the semester, I have visited quite a few places in just the past two days. We went on a palace and garden tour and visited a traditional village as well as several more trendy neighborhoods for shopping and eating. I tried on traditional clothing (which I have been wanting to do since I first saw them), and even though I almost melted in the humidity, it was worth the pictures I managed to take. There are many more adventures to come, and as much as I want to focus on them instead of school, the impending workload for the semester makes me that much more grateful that this fellowship prepared me so well for my thesis project. It’s been a great and productive summer leading up to an amazing semester.

Learn more about my project.

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Home At Last (For Now)

I left Pittsburgh 8 days ago and am just now spending more than 24 hours at home. I spent a long weekend catching up with family around New York City before heading off to Korea for the fall semester. There was a lot of food, not much sleep, and a whole lot of kids (shocker). Now that I am home in Glassboro and have the time to sit down and think, I am concentrating on tying up some loose ends of the fellowship before flying off to the other side of the world for the rest of the year.

My last week of the fellowship at the Children’s School involved me, the printer, and the laminator. I made the games and stimuli that I am using for my study in the next year, and it was the most fun I’ve had since the end of summer camp. I’ll leave all the detailed descriptions for my actual thesis, but I will describe one of the tasks that I am most excited about: Hide & Seek. Since the environment of the study can affect results, I had to figure out a way to play without the risk of accidentally hiding something in a slightly different location around a room. So, I created a paper version. I printed a large picture of a cartoon room, and after lamination, I cut out flaps around the room. Using Velcro, I will hide cartoon animals under the flaps in front of the children and have them try to find the animals based on their memory of where they were hidden. I thought long and hard about how to create a Hide & Seek game with paper, and I am super excited about how it turned out.

There is a total of six different games that I plan to play with the children. I am unsure of how long they will take to play a full round, so the number of games may decrease if time becomes an issue. If all goes well and I get to test my study in Korea, I will take that experience and use it to help polish my methods in preparation for my return in the spring. While I’m still hoping that it works out with the Korean lab school, I will be working on organizing everything I have done this summer into a coherent paper. I was told that the cafés in Korea have a great aesthetic, and I plan to take full advantage of it throughout the entire semester–even though I hate coffee.

The last few weeks passed in a blur, and I am now 11 days away from getting on a 15 hour flight. The next week will involve packing, the IRB form, writing, and more packing. I am excited and proud of how my thesis project has taken form this summer, but also worried on how I will keep up the progress next semester. However, I can’t help but let the opportunity of exploration during a study abroad adventure take priority. All in all, I feel that it was a productive summer, and I can’t wait to write my last blog post in a country that I have dreamed about traveling to for several years.

Learn more about my project.

It’s a Lot Quieter Now

(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.

Learn more about my project.

Facilitating Memory Through Games: How Will I Do It?

IMG_4429It’s been three full weeks that I have been exploring memory performance in preschool children. I’ve been spending all my days at the Children’s School, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not only do I get to enjoy time in the sun and fresh air (instead of being stuck at a desk all day), but I also get help shaping my research project from the children themselves. Playing some memory games with them for the past two weeks has helped me think more deeply about what I want to study, what I can actually study within the available time, and how to make the study as engaging as possible for the children. Finding a balance between all three is no easy feat, much more complex than I anticipated, but thankfully the summer is just heating up (literally).

IMG_4399In the first week of the fellowship, before the Children’s School Summer Camp began, I started my literature review by reading about short term memory (immediate memory for an event that just occurred), long term memory (memory for events and knowledge that were previously encountered), and, most importantly for my research project, working memory, or memory that stores information to be readily available for use. I predicted that working memory would be the focus of my project, but had not thought of how often working memory operates implicitly in our everyday lives.

IMG_4391Of the different ways working memory is used, the two broad topics that struck me were communicating and problem solving. It hadn’t occurred to me how much working memory helps us communicate, mainly because my working memory is not impaired. One of the books I have been reading (A Mind At A Time)  explained memory in the context of memory impairment, which highlighted why studying memory is important. As I write this blog post, my working memory is holding reading and writing knowledge so that I have it available when I need to know how to spell a word or where to add punctuation. With an impairment, it would be difficult to remember the beginning of the sentence by the time I get to the end, which might cause the sentence to not make sense, or sound choppy and disconnected. These impairment effects also impact spoken communication, where we need to remember the beginning of the sentence in order to finish it. More importantly, we need to remember the previous parts of a conversation in order to continue talking appropriately about a topic.

IMG_4424With problem solving, much of the same idea applies. We have to remember the problem we are facing to find a solution. The job of working memory is to hold the problem and its components and have them ready for reference while we search our long term memory for the best solution and related steps. If we keep forgetting the problem parts while devising a solution, the problem may never get solved! Setting goals and performing tasks also falls under problem solving. For example, we have all faced a moment where we walk into a room and forget why we came. This situation probably happens to everyone once in awhile, but imagine if we always forgot what we wanted to do while we were trying to do it. From my recent readings, I realized that working memory is crucial to getting anything done, because without it, we wouldn’t be able to hold together parts of ideas as they develop, devise parts of a plan to solve problems or complete tasks, or bridge the gap between short and long term memory.

Furthermore, with memory comes attention. We can’t remember what we don’t notice. One of the challenges I encountered is making the games interesting enough to keep the children’s attention, which will be important if I am trying to facilitate working memory strategies through memory games. However, from all the games I have played in the past two weeks, I have a better understanding of what motivates children and what to say to keep them engaged. For example, I was surprised when many children kept asking for a version of the basic memory matching game where they had to match items with opposite meanings. I thought there might be reluctance to play because the idea of opposites is more complicated than necessary for the game, and might have caused more failures in making matches. Instead, I found that the children requested games with more complex images more often. They are more attentive toward the games that have faces or complex images, preferring the challenge over the simplest version of the game with concrete objects for which the children have labels. When talking to the children, I have to be animated and speak loudly to keep their attention on the games, especially when competing with the pools and art projects at camp. So far, I found that the most effective way to keep their focus is to ask the children for help when I am taking a turn during the game. They seem more motivated to pay attention when they feel like they are helping me improve my performance, which then improves their own.

IMG_3920I am now even more convinced about the importance of studying memory and especially the importance of improving memory ability and strategies in young children, while their brains have the most ability to adapt to and use such strategies. There are a lot of details that need to be worked out, and I have about five weeks left in Pittsburgh with Dr. Carver and only two with the children at camp to do so. It takes a village to raise a child, and it might take the entire Children’s School population (with my hedgehog mascot named Seagull) to determine the focus and methods of my research project before the summer ends, but if the first three weeks were any indication, it will no doubt be something to remember.

Learn more about my project.