The Loh Down On Science

Do pictures help kids learn better?

Image courtesy of Kaminski & Sloutsky, J. of Ed. Psych., 2012.

Figure 3. Panel A shows the percentage of participants performing each graph-reading strategy type. Panel B shows mean (average) percent correct for all participants. Bars represent standard error of the mean. K = Kindergarten; 1st = first grade; 2nd = second grade; Extr = Extraneous; No Extr = No Extraneous [extraneous = extra information like color or familiar objects such as shoes]. [Caption modified from original for clarity.]

To teach kids math, why not use pictures?  Well . . .

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Sometimes pictures are added to lessons to make learning more fun.  But does it work? Psychologists at Ohio State University decided to see.

They taught one hundred and twenty K- through second graders to read bar graphs.  The graphs showed the number of shoes in a lost and found, over five weeks.  Each bar represented one week.  Each bar’s height represented the number of shoes.  Values were clearly labeled.

But surprise!  There were three versions!  Some children saw a plain graph.  Others saw bars filled with a stack of shoes.  Shoe counts matched each bar’s value.  A third group saw bars with shoe numbers that didn’t match the bars' values. 

They then tested each child with new graphs whose bars contained many dots or lines. 

And?  Children taught with plain graphs read the graphs correctly! C hildren with fancier graphs tried to count the objects inside the bars.  Meaning they didn't understand the bar graph concept.

However, all knew where Waldo was, though.  So that’s something.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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