Major funding for The Human Spark is provided by the National Science Foundation, and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the John Templeton Foundation, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and The Winston Foundation.
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Using segments from the series The Human Spark, students learn how to design and critique experiments with living subjects. In the Introductory Activity, students explore the steps involved in designing and conducting an experiment and view a video of an experiment with rhesus monkeys. Students discuss the steps involved in the experiment, the ways in which the researchers controlled for variables and how the experiment could be modified. In the Learning Activity, students explore several experiments conducted with human children and chimps and compare the methodology used in each. In the Culminating Activity, students design and conduct their own experiments, present their findings to the class, and share their reflections on the process.
Students will be able to:
(2) 45-minute class periods
Monkey See, Monkey Take Video
Humans vs. Chimps Video
This website provides a variety of information about experiments which could be used in this lesson, including the following:
1. Let students
know that today’s lesson is about designing, conducting and evaluating
experiments. Ask students to brainstorm what steps are involved in an
2. Ask students to describe some experiments they have conducted. Ask students to discuss difficulties they encountered in the process, as well as some of the positive highlights of their experiments.
3. Explain that today’s lesson focuses on observing, designing and conducting experiments with living subjects (humans or animals).
4. Let students know that you will now be showing a video from The Human Spark. This video features an experiment with rhesus monkeys conducted by Yale Professor Laurie Santos and her students. Ask students to observe the steps involved in conducting this experiment.
5. Play Monkey See, Monkey Take. After showing the video, ask students to list the steps involved in conducting the experiment. Possible answers:
6. Ask students to explain what the goal was of this experiment and what the researchers discovered. (Possible answer: The goal was to examine monkeys’ understanding of human perceptions and mental states. They discovered that monkeys were good at thinking about where eyes are pointed, but only in the restricted context of stealing food. The experiment indicates that monkeys have a “glimmer of awareness of others’ minds.")
7. Ask students to describe what gave Laurie Santos the idea to conduct this experiment. (In previous experiments, monkeys had stolen food from her and her colleagues when they weren’t looking.)
8. Ask students to describe some of the ways that the researchers’ controlled for factors that might cause monkeys to approach one researcher rather than the other. (Researchers dressed in similar attire- white short-sleeved t-shirts, dark pants and ponytails. The researchers were both women, similar in height and wore eyeglasses. A third researcher called out the commands, so that each researcher did her action at the same time. Researchers stood the same distance away from the monkey. Researchers used the same sized grapes, skewers and paper/cardboard. Researchers A & B took turns turning around and switched positions.)
9. Discuss the experiment with the students and solicit their feedback about the experiment. Discuss the importance of controlling for external factors in order to reduce the variables that might impact the results. Discuss the following terms and challenge students to identify each type of variable in Laurie Santos’ experiment.
10. Brainstorm ideas on how researchers could modify the experiment to gain more insight into the monkeys’ reactions. Possible ideas:
1. Introduce the next video by letting students know that they will now be watching experiments conducted with children and chimps. Ask students to observe the similarities and differences between each experiment conducted for children and its corresponding experiment conducted for chimps.
2. Play Humans vs. Chimps. After showing the video, ask the students to list the four different experiments highlighted in the video. (Hidden object under moving cup; object-dropping/social skills experiments; hidden object under cup without pointing; light vs. heavy boxes.)
3. Discuss each experiment, highlighting the similarities and differences between each human experiment and its corresponding chimp experiment. (Refer to the Humans vs. Chimps Discussion Guide, as needed.)
4. Discuss the findings of the experiments.
5. Lead a discussion about the methodology used in the featured experiments. Include the following in the discussion:
1. Review the different experiments that you have discussed already. Let students know they will be designing and conducting their own experiments with human subject.
2. Ask students to brainstorm questions they would
like to investigate. Possible
3. Divide students into small groups. Ask each group to select a question to investigate and to design an experiment to explore that question.
4. Ask the groups to conduct their experiments, using other students, friends or family members as subjects. Ask students to record their findings, by writing up the information, videotaping and/or audio recording the session. Possible experiments:
5. After students have conducted their experiments, ask them to summarize their findings and present them to the class. Ask students to reflect upon the design of their experiments and to think about how they could modify them (for example, increasing sample size, changing the items used, varying the environment in which the experiment took place, etc.).