Fun ways to teach kids that context can influence perception
February 13, 2021 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a fun, interactive exercise to teach kids that contextualization affects their perceptions....

The goal is to encourage observation of how the media frames different ideas, and how that can influence the audience's perception. Age range is about 8-10.

This exercise is perfect:
Instructor describes two unseen photos to the kids, asking them to draw what they imagine:
1. a creature with shaggy dirty hair, long sharp teeth, and it's staring at you.
2. a pet with soft fluffy fur, happy smiling mouth, and it's gazing at you.

The kids draw, then compare their drawings of scary monsters and cute pets... then we reveal that both photos were identical: a happy dog playing near a lake! How the instructor described them made the kids imagine something completely different.

Can you think of anything similar? I'm open to anything as it might spark an idea!
The main constraint is that the kids can't leave the room, or the Zoom chat- it has to be done in real time, sitting at a computer screen, in about 5 minutes total. So tasks like drawing and word association are ideal.
posted by nouvelle-personne to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Oh here's another example: asking a question like,
Would you ever drink a chemical used to clean cars? (meaning water)
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:40 AM on February 13

Going off your last one, I used to throw the Ban DHMO site into my course unit about evaluating sources online—though be aware that my students were in college and still sometimes fooled! That can be useful, though.

It's a different aspect of "perception," but starting with the Invisible Gorilla experiment could be a useful way to introduce the idea that sometimes your chosen angle or focus can make you miss something major. It's extremely Zoom-able and blows people's minds.
posted by babelfish at 12:03 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]

Any version of this story. It's apocryphal, of course.

When I was a kid there was a story in our reader about a purse snatching in a park. The cops interviewed the witnesses to get a description. A kid who saw it from the playground described the purse snatcher as an old guy. A senior who was sitting on a bench described them as a young person. A homeless person described the person as well dressed, a socialite in designer gear described them as scruffy, a soldier with a crew cut described them as having long hair, a hippie described them as having short hair, a person on crutches described them as racing away afterwards, an athlete described them as not even running...
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:12 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]

Might be a little out of left field, but maybe one of these auditory illusions? I specifically am thinking of back masking, and how if we see what the words are we are “supposed” to hear in a sound, we will hear them.
posted by itsamermaid at 1:16 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]

This preview for Finding Dory as a thriller might actually be a bit too scary, but it's a good example of using music and selected clips to spin something. Here's one for Elf. (Warning, the last one has the word "hell" in it at one point.)

You could make something of your own like this pretty easily by taking the same clip of something neutral happening (like fish swimming or a person riding a bike) and putting dramatic music over it or cheerful music.

I definitely remember reading a novel where the teacher explains how someone can use a direct quote to imply that the speaker meant the exact opposite of what they were actually saying. A quote sort of like: "People can drink whatever they want, I guess. I personally think soda is unhealthy and disgusting, but it's up to the individual what they want to put into their bodies." It was edited to something like "People can drink whatever they want...soda is unhealthy, but it's up to the individual what they want to [drink]."

I would also have them come up with synonyms for words with different connotations. Like a dark room could be soothing or creepy. A light can be bright or blinding. Maybe they even have to describe someone running fast, knowing they're fleeing a purse-snatching vs. they're carrying an important message. Or you have someone with superpowers and half of them have to describe them as a hero and the other half as a villain.
posted by gideonfrog at 2:17 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]

The gray strawberries illusion may be dealing with perception at too low a level, but might fit with what you're trying to get across.
posted by adamrice at 3:36 PM on February 13

The parable of the blind men and the elephant could be used as a basis for a lesson:
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: "We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable". So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, "This being is like a thick snake". For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, "is a wall". Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.
posted by Leontine at 3:49 PM on February 13

Brendan Wenzel's "They All Saw a Cat" literally illustrates this concept beautifully.
posted by Viola Swamp at 3:59 PM on February 13

The Guardian's 1986 Points of View advert might be relevant, but it's probably a bit passive. You could use it as a jumping off point for designing an exercise though.
posted by knapah at 5:07 PM on February 13

Look into the Kuleshov effect. A good example: at the end of Casablanca the creative team had not yet decided if Ilsa would get on the plane or not, so Ingrid Bergman was just filmed looking back and forth — yet the audience tends to see her thoughts via the editing. (This is, at least, the story I’ve always heard.)
posted by argybarg at 5:21 PM on February 13

green needle brainstorm

Yanny Laurel
posted by at at 6:46 PM on February 13

The gray strawberries illusion may be dealing with perception at too low a level, but might fit with what you're trying to get across.

Also this shadows-on-the-checkerboard illusion from the same site.


There's one I saw in an intro psych class - the lecturer, on a darkened stage, shone light on a set of three cards: one black, one grey, one white. She whipped out a real white card, to show us that the first three were black, dark grey, and light grey.

Unfortunately, I don't know if this one will work with video and automatic light-leveling.


It'd be work, but could do something with this:

Maybe: "Class, let's sort these into 'Which was drawn before and which was drawn after the visit."
or better, if you can do drawings before and after video chats with real working scientists.


I've a pet peeve of how photo clip art always has lab glassware with brightly colored water in it, when real lab set-ups often have lots of clear liquid. So maybe collect a set of images of both types, and have the class guess which is which, and why.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:05 PM on February 13

Maybe some of these neuroscience for kids projects?
posted by kschang at 10:25 AM on February 15

« Older Grandad Alternative   |   Bridgerton ending Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments