Tag Archives: Skinner box

Year 13 – behave!

Dear Everyone,

Happy New Academic Year! Not that new, come to think of it, given that we’re already 3 weeks in. I would have re-started these weekly burblings earlier, but I’ve been swamped with such joyous things as UCAS references, Departmental Review meetings and the Year 13 Field Trip (actually, this was pretty joyous, even if nothing but giant slugs turned up in the Live Mammal Traps ). It’s also meant I’ve not had time to plan lessons properly, which has resulted in some Year 7s and 9s being rather short-changed – ugh, the kind of lessons that keep you awake at night. Still, I’ve never taught Year 7s before, and they are very nice. And very small.

The practical highlight so far has been Behavioural stuff with the Year 13s. I do enjoy putting the students in my Skinner Box. You need to borrow a couple of power packs/switches/bulbs from Physics but otherwise it’s a doddle. Arrange some chairs/benches in a square, put a switch/bulb on opposite sides, allocate two students to the two switch/bulb set ups (with a set of instructions each – attached – and a tube of smarties each) and then put the other students in, one by one and see what they do. Highly entertaining.

And taxes/kineses with maggots always amazes me by how brilliantly it works. No background theory – just straight in. Choice Choobs (© Burnett 2005) are easy to make – just a cardboard tube with a hole in the middle for introducing the maggots, and a bung. Get them to design the experiment, collect the data, analyse with Chi2, research the behaviour etc. Why is this adaptive? And so on.

Kineses are even easier – A3 paper, food dye, A3 sized tray for putting over the top. Dip a maggot in the dye, pop it on the middle of the paper and let it go. Record distance travelled and number of turns for 30-60 seconds. It produces wonderful, Jackson Pollock-esque images, and it works. The maggots go twice as fast in the light, and turn much more in the dark. Again, design, collect, analyse, research. These are really nice ways of revising basic skills (what type of graph? Where are the error bars? How do you analyse? Standard deviation?) and brilliant at really nailing experimental design/controls (how do you know your maggots don’t just head north?).

It also throws up some good statistics stuff – If 8 maggots out of 10 head to the dark, it’s not actually a significant effect, even though it looks like a clear preference. So what do you need to do?

That’s it for this week!

Paul

Skinner box operator instructions 1

Skinner box operator instructions 2

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