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Monday, May 20
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

IU faculty uses puppets to study child development

IU faculty members are using puppets to study the way elementary students think.
The researchers divide the students, ages 5 to 8, into teams that must search for wireless flowers from which to collect nectar units.

For the students, the wireless honeybee puppets on their hands represent a game.

For IU researchers, they represent data.

IU faculty members Kylie Peppler, Joshua Danish and Armin Moczek are using these electronic puppets to analyze the ways in which children learn complex systems.

The team received a nearly $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue research using newly developed BioSim technologies. The funding will provide for the project, which is currently in its early stages, to continue research for three years.

Peppler described BioSim as a blend of e-textiles and technology. Through the effort, students in kindergarten through second grade receive electronically enhanced puppets, or e-puppets, in the shape of bees, and the students must work together in teams to collect nectar and return it to the hive.

The puppets are worn as gloves and contain sensors that connect with similarly programmed flowers to track the amount of nectar retrieved by the students.

“We program it so that it communicates with a central computer, but also so it can sense its environment,” Peppler said. “They fly around and they can actually sense things in the room.”

Peppler said during the game students are given conditions similar to that of honeybees, including restrictions on talking with their teammates.

“They have to find a way of communicating,” she said. “The kids kind of create their own language system, kind of like sign language.”

Danish said in an email he also aims to encourage students’ learning through the experiments.

“We also want to help students learn these complex ideas and develop a software toolkit that can be expanded into other content areas and topics,” he said.

Danish said the team is currently working with the WonderLab Museum of Science, Health and Technology to complete workshops with local teachers and gain feedback on the program curriculum.

The team’s goal, he said, is to build approximately 40 puppets — enough to support two classrooms at once.

Karen Jepson-Innes, associate executive director of WonderLab, said in an email the museum will facilitate teacher workshops in order to provide the researchers with an idea of how the toolkit works when applied.

“(WonderLab will) serve as a study site for the researchers to observe how groups of children visiting the museum use the toolkit and others to be developed,” she said.

WonderLab will also coordinate focus groups of teachers who can provide input about how the toolkit learning system can be best implemented in the classroom, she said.

Peppler said the toolkit will also aid in preparing students to meet the next generation of science requirements in schools.

“I think part of what makes it innovative is there’s not a lot of high quality science experiences for young children,” Peppler said.

Danish said he was excited at the prospect of further research and hopes the outcome will have an impact on science education for elementary students.

“This is going to be a really exciting project and will hopefully do great things for education,” he said.

Follow IUSA reporter Holly Hays on Twitter @hv_hays.

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