do we learn? A simple path through a maze provides a way to measure
one kind of learning using the sense of touch.
activity guides middle school or secondary students in exploring
one part of the complex process of learning. Some schools have had
success in teaching students about how the brain and mind work so
they can actively and consciously take part in their own learning.
senses play an important part in learning. The brain's work begins
with the messages it receives through the senses from the outside
world. Neural connections form as experience and data provide the
building blocks for understanding. Sight is usually the primary
sense for navigation—how can we tell where to go if we can't see
the path? In this activity, however, students measure the trial-and-error
learning that occurs when sight is restricted and they must rely
primarily on touch. The first attempt to complete the maze is reinforced
by two more trials, letting the navigator accumulate experience
and learn the path.
is a maze? Let the students discuss their ideas about mazes, perhaps
supported with photographs or drawings of mazes. Students then take
about 10 minutes to create a maze from 12 stick-on mailing label
strips and two stickers. The start and end points of the path are
marked by the stickers—use stickers that are distinct from the strips
so they will provide a different tactile sensation. Protect each
student's maze construction from others' eyes by standing a manila
folder (or a tall book) around each work area.
Stick-on mailing labels, 30 labels a page. To conserve your
materials budget, cut the mailing labels into three thin strips.
Use labels with rounded corners for easy removal
student will need:
student pair needs:
12 mailing label strips
1 manila folder
1 sheet construction paper
pairs learn each other's mazes using only their fingertips to find
their way. First, one person will attempt the other person's maze,
blindfolded, while the partner times the run. Each student gets
three timed trials on each maze; completion rates are recorded on
a record sheet (see above, right). After one has completed the three
attempts, the students switch roles.
Talking About It
the completion of the timed trials the students can reflect on their
experience. Possible questions include
What evidence did you have that you were learning?
Were you able to shorten your completion time? Were there portions
of the maze you learned well and others that were still difficult?
Was timing the trials a good way to measure learning? Could you
learn more about the maze but not improve your completion time?
What is learning?
What are some other skills you have learned through trial and
the mazes and data sheets for future trials. Have the students predict
how the passage of time will affect their learning. Test their long-term
memory by retracing the same mazes at a later time (one week, one
month, etc.). How accurate were their predictions?
excerpt is from Chapter 6, "The Human Organism: Learning" in Benchmarks
for Science Literacy (1993), reprinted with permission from
the Oxford University Press.