Education

Communication research in the classroom


Classroom communication activities

Interested in personally experiencing deeper, hidden properties of human communication? Try out the below classroom activities for children ages 10 and up. The activities are designed to think about fundamental questions such as: How is it possible that people understand each other so well, and why do robots struggle so much with human interaction? And what happens in our brains when we communicate? The activities are part of the book chapter Understanding Each Other, which additionally describes how scientists conduct their research more generally and where more information on the topic can be found. The chapter is an initiative by the Science Education Hub at the Radboud University in the Netherlands, and was created in collaboration with school teachers. A link to a Dutch copy can be found below.

Introduction activity: Meeting Asimo

Goals

  • The students are introduced to the term ‘understanding each other’;

  • The students analyse the behaviour of the robot in the film;

  • The students are introduced to the question wall;

  • The students learn to ask questions about the topic ‘understanding each other’.

Grouping

As a class and in groups of four

Preparation and necessities

  • Prepare the film about Asimo on the digiboard;

  • Paper

Duration

45 minutes

Introduction

The students watch the film about Asimo. As a class, the students discuss what they saw. What stands out is that Asimo thinks the man with the camera has a question to ask. When no question is asked, Asimo devises a question to which he knows the answer. The conclusion is that what we can do well, namely understanding each other, poses great difficulty for a robot.

Activity

In groups of four, the students determine what they already know about how we understand each other and what questions they still have. They discuss about this and each group writes down what they do and don’t already know about the topic.

Wrapping up

With the entire class, the findings of the students are discussed. The teacher compiles the responses and adds these to the question wall in the classroom.

Activity 1: Fribble game

Goals

  • The students understand that there are different ways to make something clear;

  • The students practice describing what they observe;

  • The students understand that shared knowledge and a better understanding of your communication partner makes to easier to understand him or her;

  • The students understand that empathy for others can be helpful in the development of mutual understanding.

  • For each group, a sheet with numbered fribbles (blue);

  • For each group, a set fribbles on cards (red, green, yellow or purple). The groups receive as much of their own colour as possible. Separate cards per fribble are cut. The cards must be approximately the same size;

  • Three numbered cards per person. The sheet is cut into six.

Groups of four Grouping

Groups of four

Preparation and necessities

  • For each group, a sheet with numbered fribbles (blue);

  • For each group, a set fribbles on cards (red, green, yellow or purple). The groups receive as much of their own colour as possible. Separate cards per fribble are cut. The cards must be approximately the same size;

  • Three numbered cards per person. The sheet is cut into six.

Duration

30 minutes

Activity

Phase 1: Understanding each other

Each participant in the group receives two unique fribbles (unnumbered) and a numbered card. They keep this hidden from the rest of the group. In the middle of the group is a sheet of numbered fribbles (blue). The group members take turns to describe their fribbles and thereby, are not allowed to use the numbers on the sheet with blue fribbles. The rest of the group must try to guess which fribble in the middle corresponds with the fribble in the hand of the student who is describing his or her fribble. The players write the name of the person on the card at the number of the fribble they suspect he/she is describing. Once everyone has had a turn, they check if they guessed correctly. If all fribbles have been guessed, a classroom assessment follows. Why is it that the other person understands you, even though the figure that you’re holding does not have a formal name?

Phase 2: Understanding each other with prior knowledge

The fribbles are shuffled. The students again receive two fribbles and a numbered card. The game is played again in the same manner. If all is well, determining who has which fribble is easier. Once all the fribbles have been guessed again, another classroom evaluation is conducted. Was this round faster? Why would that be? Perhaps you made agreements on how to refer to the fribbles (for example: the vacuum cleaner with hooks) or you refer to a shared event in the previous round (for example: ‘I have the fribble that Tom had recently.’) Try to let the students conclude that shared experiences help in the development of mutual understanding.

Phase 3: Dependent on context and listener

Nu worden er nieuwe groepjes van vier gevormd. Twee spelers uit groepje A vormen een groepje met twee spelers uit groepje B. Leerlingen komen dus in een groepje met iemand die het spel al wel samen met ze heeft gespeeld, en twee leerlingen met wie ze het spel nog niet hebben gespeeld. De fribbles worden weer geschud en de leerlingen krijgen opnieuw twee fribbles en een genummerd kaartje. Opnieuw wordt het spel gespeeld.

Er vindt weer een klassikale evaluatie plaats. Was het nou makkelijker om de fribble te raden van je originele groepsgenoot? En waarom zou dit makkelijker zijn? Waarschijnlijk komt naar voren dat met een deel van de groep eerder gemaakte omschrijvingen/afspraken wel kunnen worden gebruikt en met een deel van de groep niet. Er kunnen dus misverstanden ontstaan, omdat spelers uit groep A en B geen gemeenschappelijke kennis delen.

Wrapping up

The class discusses how the game proceeded. Could the students describe the fribbles adequately? In which phase was the description of the fribbles the best? And why was that? To check whether the goals of the activity were achieved, you can discuss these with the students. For example, do the students understand that empathy for others and shared knowledge can be useful in the develop- ment of mutual understanding? And how did they come to realize this?

Tip

A tip for the teacher is to first play the game yourself, for example with the team. It’s possible that the game seems complicated; if so, then the difficulty which the students encounter can be better understood.

  • Numbered fribbles;

  • Coloured fribbles for cards;

  • Numbered cards

Activity 2: Fribble with gestures

Goals

    • The students learn to develop a hypothesis;

    • The students learn to observe critically;

    • The students learn to make a statement about the truth of a hypothesis.

Grouping

Groups of four

Preparation and necessities

    • For each group, a sheet with numbered fribbles (blue);

    • For each group, a set fribbles on cards (red, green, yellow or purple). The groups receive as much
      of their own colour as possible. Separate cards per fribble are cut. The cards must be approximately the same size;

    • A numbered card per student. The sheet is cut into six pieces.

Duration

30 minutes


Introduction

Activity 2 is looked back in retrospect. What did the students do? How was the fribble game played again? What conclusions could be
drawn after playing the fribble-game? This time, a variation of the game is played. The students may no longer describe the fribbles, but instead have to portray them. With the class, a prediction is made, a so-called hypothesis, about how this will play out. Will it be easier or more difficult than with words? And wherein will trying to say something with words differ from saying something using gestures? Each group is appointed an observer. This observer assesses if the formulated hypothesis gets accepted or rejected.

Activity

Again groups of four are formed and everyone receives two fribbles. The students all portray their unique fribbles. The rest of the group must try to guess which fribble in the middle corresponds with the fribble in the hand of the person attempting to portray it. The players write the name of the student, who is portraying the fribble, on the card at the number of the fribble that best matches the description of the portrayed fribble. At the end, they check if they guessed correctly.

Wrapping up

The class hypothesis is addressed. What did the observers see? Was the hypothesis correct? How did this variant differ from the variant from Activity 2?

  • Numbered fribbles;

  • Coloured fribbles for cards;

  • Numbered cards

Activity 3: A thought experiment with Asimo

Goals

  • The students experience that the understanding of words can not been taken for granted;

  • The students practice describing objects as clearly as possible;

  • The students get an idea of how computer programs work which directs robots;

  • The students can provide different descriptions of the same object.

Grouping

Groups of four

Preparation and necessities

  • Two sets of numbered fribbles for each group;

  • A dictionary-worksheet for each group.

Duration

90 minutes

Introduction

The film about Asimo, the robot from Activity 1, is watched again. Why is it that we are (usually) capable of understanding other people? Why is it so difficult to build a robot that is also capable of that? In order for a robot to take action, you must tell him exactly what to do in certain situations. This is called programming. You can see a robot program as a kind of dictionary. Such a dictionary describes how the robot should act or what it should say in certain situations. During the press conference, Asimo searches for the situation ‘a person raises his hand’ in his dictionary. There he finds the definition ‘the person wants to ask a question.’ But as we have learned earlier, the meaning of a word or action is highly dependent on the situation and the person conveying it; in this case, the person only wanted to take a picture. To resolve this confusion for Asimo about whether someone wants to ask a question or take a picture of him, this situational information would have to be added to Asimo’s dictionary.

The information in his dictionary would then look like the following:

Asimo’s dictionary

‘Someone raises his hand, but is not wielding a camera’ = ‘This person wants to ask a question’. ‘Someone raises his hand while wielding a camera’ = ‘This person wants to take a picture’.

Let’s see whether it is possible to create a dictionary for Asimo, so that he can understand us during the fribble game that we played earlier.

Activity

Phase 1: Collecting fribble descriptions

We start once again in groups of four. Each group gets a dictionary-worksheet which has eight numbers on it. These eight numbers correspond with the eight fribbles. Each group gets two sheets with numbered fribbles (i.e. one group gets two sets of eight blue numbered fribbles, the other group gets two sets of eight red numbered fribbles, etc.). Collect all the possible ways in which each fribble can be described in the group (gestures can be drawn or described as clearly possible). Then fill in the dictionary-worksheet. Note: make sure the description of the fribble corresponds with the number of the fribble in the worksheet.

Note: make sure the description of the fribble corresponds with the number of the fribble in the worksheet.

Phase 2: Can you ensure that a person can understand you, but Asimo cannot?

Now two students of each group move to a different group. One person plays Asimo the robot, the other person plays Isa the human. The role division is as follows:

  • Asimo the robot (this student was previously in group 1) receives the dictionary that group 2 made; he may not see the sheet with the numbered fribbles;

  • Isa the human (this student was previously in group 1) gets to see the numbered fribbles belonging to group 2;

  • Student from group 2;

  • Student from group 2.
    Asimo can only understand the other three students based on the dictionary previously made by the others. The other two students must now describe the fribbles to Isa and Asimo in such a way that Isa is capable of guessing the fribble, but Asimo can’t. Once Isa or Asimo think they know which fribble is being described, he or she must mention the number.
    There is a classroom evaluation:
    what did the other students do to ensure that Asimo did not understand them? The most obvious possibility to make sure that Asimo does not know which fribble is being described is to devise means of communication that are not in the dictionary.

Phase 3: A thicker dictionary for Asimo
Each group now collects the fribble descriptions they used during the game to ensure Asimo could not understand them. After recollecting all the fribble descriptions, a round is played: ‘How can you ensure that humans understand you, but Asimo cannot?’ Again, two students per group move to another group (not the same group as last time, for example, two students from group 2 now go to group 3). What about now? Can you manage communicating with each other so that Isa can understand you, but Asimo cannot?

Another classroom evaluation takes place: what did the other students do to ensure that Asimo could not understand them? Was it more difficult or easier than the previous time? Why? Do you think it is possible to understand each other by collecting all the possible descriptions for the fribbles? The most obvious possibility is to devise even more means of communication that aren’t in Asimo’s dictionary and to add them to his dictionary. But if you collected all the possible descriptions for fribbles, then you would end up with an infinitely large dictionary! Just imagine if you had to construct such a dic- tionary, not just for fribbles, but also for tables, chairs, children, animals and everything around you. And how can you then talk together about situations and things that you have never seen before?

Wrapping up

Divide the class into small groups and try to have the students conduct the following thought-expe- riment. What building blocks or modules would they put in Asimo to allow him to really understand people? Put this in perspective of the press conference situation that occurred with Asimo. How can Asimo be programmed to understand that the man raising his hand only intended to take a picture of Asimo? If you find this difficult to do in groups, this activity can also be done with the whole class. The students can also receive the assignment to think of more situations where Asimo may not act appropriately.

With the whole class: Would it be possible to program Asimo with all the possible conceivable situations or will there always be some things that Asimo cannot do? And why is it possible that we humans can do these things? Scientists aren’t too sure themselves. For example, think of empathy, shared collective knowledge and in particular creativity (ability to innovate, devising new solutions, coming up with more descriptions), etc.

Tip

This is an activity with a lot of (conceptual) challenges for the students. It is important to take time for the class discussions, so that students get the time to think about what is happening.

  • Film about Asimo (see activity 1);

  • Fribbles for Asimo;

  • Dictionary-worksheet.

Activity 4: Charades

Goals

  • The students practice clearly conveying a word using gestures;

  • The students practice depicting certain words without talking, they are limited to gestures only; • The students practice analysing certain behaviour and can delineate the effective and lesseffective components.

Grouping

As a class

Preparation and necessities

  • Think of several Charades’ words (a number of words that are difficult to depict); • Stopwatch.

Duration

30 minutes

Introduction

For the last activity within the exploration phase, the game Charades is played. It is played by having a depicter and four students that attempt to guess what is being depicted. The rest of the group, along with the teacher, are observers. They pay attention to the interaction between the players. Those designated for guessing are called into the classroom one-by-one.

Activity

The depicter receives a word that needs to be depicted in such way that the students can guess it. The depicter is not allowed to talk during this time. The student guessing is allowed to however.

The guesser has 1 minute to guess the word that is being depicted. If the guesser succeeds, he or she receives 10 points. If guesser succeeds within 11⁄2 minutes, he or she will receive 5 points. Once the correct word has been guessed, the guesser becomes an observer and observes how another student guesses and can thereby compare strategies. A new guesser enters the class and takes the guesser’s vacant spot. The depicter depicts the same word for this guesser too. This is repeated until all four students that were guessing have had their turn.

Wrapping up

The activity is reflected upon. Who guessed the word the quickest? And why is this? Was this due to the person or the situation? What gestures did the depicter make? Did his or her gestures change in response to the comments of the student? And did he immediately apply this in the next round? Was there a particular gesture that was effective?

Tip

This game is also suitable to be played as a ‘5-minute game’ during the whole project.


Classroom scientific review

Ever wondered how science is evaluated? Typically, study reports are carefully read by scientific colleagues in the field. These reviewers send their comments, to which authors of the report can respond. The journal Frontiers for Young Minds has taken this evaluation mechanism out of the lab and into the classroom. Articles in this journal are no longer reviewed by other scientists, but by children! You can find such an article and its evaluation below. The article is about a recent discovery that damage to the prefrontal cortex (front of brain) affects one's ability to take into account knowledge of a communication partner during social interaction. An initial version of the article was reviewed by a group of children ages 7-13, whose comments can be found directly below the article link.


Social neurocognition

This college-level course provides a thorough background in the newly emerging field of social cognitive neuroscience. A broad range of social phenomena are examined at multiple levels. First, at the social level including experience and behaviors. Second, at the cognitive level which deals with information processing systems. And lastly, at the neural level which deals with brain/neuronal bases of the first two levels. Topics include joint action, animal and human communication, and altered social functioning in neurological and psychiatric disorders. Lecture slides and suggested readings can be found in the link below.