A Live Demonstration to Enhance Interest and Understanding in Child Development

Article excerpt

Concepts and methods in the field of child development are understood better when observed or experienced, as opposed to described in a standard textbook or lecture format. We describe a live demonstration ill which commonly-taught developmental phenomena (e.g., Piagetian concepts, gender understanding, theory-of-mind abilities) are performed in front of a large class by children of several different ages. Students observe developmental changes firsthand and gain an appreciation for the methodological difficulties of conducting research with children. An immediate evaluation of the demonstration showed significant cognitive gains in students' understanding of the observed concepts, and a long-term follow-up showed self-reported cognitive and motivational benefits.

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Instructors constantly strive to incorporate activities into the classroom that will increase student engagement and enhance understanding of course material. Many suggestions for such activities exist (e.g., Benjamin, Nodine, Ernst, & Broeker, 1999; McKeachie, 1999; Ware & Johnson, 2000). For example, when teaching child development, instructors commonly use videos, which have been found to increase student understanding and interest (Grabe & Tabor, 1981; Silvestro, 1979). Although videos are easily accessible and can be used repeatedly, they may not depict the richness and diversity of children's behaviors. For this reason, many instructors prefer to have students observe or interact with children in a live setting (e.g., Kourany, Humphreys, & Rabin, 1987; Mann, Carney, & Parameswaran, 1996; Sugar & Livosky, 1988). Arranging for such placements, however, can be time-consuming and logistically difficult with large courses.

In response to these limitations, some instructors have designed activities that offer the benefits of live observation with fewer of the challenges. For example, Vacha-Haase (1996) described an activity in which children and their parents come to class and serve on a classroom panel. This exercise allows students to observe children engaging in largely unstructured free-play, but offers no opportunity for them to witness children participating in more structured activities. Balch (1986) suggested having a subset of students administer tasks to a child and videotape the session for laterclassroom viewing. Although this activity provides an opportunity to see children performing specific tasks, the range of tasks used is small, and only a subset of the students actually see the tasks performed live. Furthermore, although many instructors may use these types of activities in their classroom, there are surprisingly few documented reports of their effectiveness. Vacha-Haase (1996) reports that the students found the activity enjoyable and that it seemed to enhance their understanding, but her evidence is strictly anecdotal. Balch (1986) does provide data suggesting that students who watched their classmates perform tasks with children received higher scores on a subsequent quiz and found the activity worthwhile but there was no measure of effectiveness beyond this short-term gain.

In this paper we describe how to conduct a demonstration that builds upon both of these activities and can be used with any course that introduces students to concepts in child development. Like Vacha-Haase (1996), a group of children come to campus during a regular class meeting but our demonstration has them participate in both structured and unstructured activities. Our demonstration is also unique in the scope of tasks used, the opportunity for all students to witness live interaction, and the inclusion of upper-division students as assistants who both entertain the children and administer the tasks. Furthermore, we provide evidence for the effectiveness of such a demonstration on students' understanding and interest, as measured at both short-term and long-term intervals.

Method

Participants

Participants were recruited from a yearlong Introduction to Psychology course (N = 67) that included the demonstration as part of the curriculum. …