Alternate Activity 2: Distraction Experiment
Activity time: 25 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
- Hand-held video game device(s), such as Game Boy, DS, or iPod Touch
- Music, and a music player
Preparation for Activity
- Make sure the video game device you will use has a game loaded that is (1) appropriate in content for the age level, (2) not too difficult for someone who hasn't played the game before, and (3) complex and/or fast-paced enough to require players' active concentration. If you have access to multiple video game devices, you will be able to have multiple participants doing the same challenge at once, and the activity will take less time. They need not all play the same game.
- Select music that is likely to distract a concentrating person-for example, songs with lyrics, or rhythm or key changes. You might even prepare a medley of distracting tunes.
- Set up the music player and queue the music you have brought.
- Post a sheet of newsprint. Draw a line down the center. Title one column "With Noise" and other column "Without Noise."
- Optional: If using a video game system is not feasible, adapt this activity so participants try another challenge "with noise" and "without noise," such as counting backwards by sevens or reciting the alphabet backwards.
Description of Activity
Participants experience the effect of everyday, environmental noise on their ability to engage in tasks that require concentration.
Tell the group they will try an experiment. Each person will have two timed chances to play a video game. The first chance will be while the room is quiet. The second will be while there is music playing and other participants are talking or making noise.
If you have more than one video game device, divide the group into smaller groups to share each device. Post a separate scoring sheet (newsprint, divided into two columns "With Noise"/"Without Noise" for each group.
For each round, designate a timekeeper. Show them how to use the stopwatch to "start" and "stop" a round. Decide how long a round will be-e.g., one minute, three minutes etc.-based on how much time you have for the activity and how many rounds you will need to have so that every participants gets to play twice,
Encourage the group to keep silent during the "Without Noise" rounds and to chatter or otherwise make noise during the "With Noise" rounds. For each round, record the score that the player got.
Once every child has received one score in the "With Noise" column and one score in the "Without Noise" column, put away the game devices and gather the group. Look together at the scores. Discuss, using these questions:
- Were there significant differences in the scores people got with the noise and without it?
- How might background noise affect people's ability to do complex tasks?
- How many of the participants habitually have music or the television on while they are doing their homework? If you are not paying attention to these sounds, could they still by interrupting your concentration?
- Is it helpful or harmful to have background noise? What do the results of our experiment suggest?
If you have time, play more rounds to explore how different kinds of noise affect the scores people get. For instance, does just having music playing make a difference? Does the volume make a difference? Does it matter whether people are talking in the background or talking to the person who is playing the game? If engaging in conversation appears to reduce players' scores, what might this say about the effect of talking on the phone while driving?
Including All Participants
Be sure to choose a challenge task every participant has the ability to accomplish. If any students have fine-motor challenges, look into adaptive technologies and modified devices; parents may know of electronic game-playing devices their children are able to use.
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