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Guide Index

If Only They Could Talk!

Who Needs Words, Anyway?

Number Crunchers

Figure That One Out

No Fools About Tools

Thinking About Thinking

Viewer Challenge
in the classroom
TEACHING GUIDES


Animal Einsteins:
Figure That One Out


Ravens and other birds in the crow family are believed to be smart, but how intelligent are they -- and how would anyone know they're intelligent? One of the ways to assess animal intelligence is to see how the animal reacts to a difficult situation for the first time. See what happens when a raven and later a tamarin must figure how to solve some unusual problems.

Curriculum Links
National Science Education Standards
Related Frontiers Show and Activity
Activity: Puzzling Situations
Answers




CURRICULUM LINKS


BIOLOGY/
LIFE SCIENCE


birds, primates

HUMANITIES/
LANGUAGE ARTS


 

PSYCHOLOGY


cognition, problem solving




NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS

SCIENCE AS INQUIRY / LIFE SCIENCE
5-8: Structure and Function in Living Systems, Reproduction and Heredity, Regulation and Behavior, Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
9-12: Biological Evolution, Behavior of Organisms
SCIENCE IN PERSONAL AND SOCIAL PERSPECTIVES
5-8: Science and Technology in Society
9-12: Science and Technology in Local, National and Global Challenges
HISTORY AND NATURE OF SCIENCE
5-8,
9-12:
Science as a Human Endeavor




RELATED FRONTIERS SHOW AND ACTIVITY



ACTIVITY: PUZZLING SITUATIONS

On Frontiers you saw how different animals approach and solve various problems. Problem-solving techniques have enabled animals to survive successfully; if animals couldn't solve problems, they would not be able to find food and fend off predators. Problem-solving techniques vary from species to species, but are not unique to humans. Studying how different animals solve problems may give us insights into animals' and perhaps people's behavior, as well.

In this activity you will observe how different people solve a puzzle. Select a few people to be testers and others to solve the puzzles shown here.


MATERIALS
  • stopwatch
  • toothpicks
  • paper
  • index cards
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • waterproof tape
PROCEDURE

PART 1: SET UP THE EXPERIMENT

  1. Place 12 toothpicks into the pattern shown:

    toothpick puzzle

  2. Have a pencil and piece of paper ready to record your observations.

  3. Tell your classmate to make two four-sided shapes of different sizes by removing two toothpicks. (NOTE: The solution does not require that all remaining toothpicks be part of the two shapes.)
PART 2: GATHER DATA

  1. Observe how the subject (your classmate) solves the problem.

  2. Write down how long your classmate studies the problem before beginning, how long he or she spends manipulating the puzzle and any verbal or nonverbal language used to solve it.

  3. Repeat the process with two or three other subjects.

  4. Compare the problem-solving techniques people used.

  5. Create a graph or poster that represents your data in a clear and concise way.

  6. Try a variation of the same puzzle. Use the same toothpick pattern but ask subjects to move (not remove) three toothpicks to make three equal squares. Did subjects solve the problem the same way they solved the first puzzle?
PART 3: SWITCH PLACES

  1. Change roles, so the tester becomes the subject.

  2. Follow the same process of observation while the subject solves the puzzle.

  3. In this puzzle, instruct the subject to duplicate the shape illustrated below, constructed from a single index card. No pieces have been removed from or added to the card. Its odd shape requires some carefully placed snips and a mind-bending twist. Can you duplicate this shape using an index card and scissors?

    card puzzle
Puzzle reprinted by permission. For more puzzles, read Visual Thinking Puzzles by Michael DiSpezio, Sterling Publishers, ISBN 0-8069-9975-6. 1998. Available through most bookstores and NSTA, 800-722-NSTA.

QUESTIONS

  1. Describe different ways people solved the problem. Which seemed to be the most successful techniques?

  2. Try these puzzles with people of different ages and compare results.

  3. What is the most difficult aspect of studying behavior in humans? Do you think animal behaviorists have the same problems?

  4. Compare the ways the raven and tamarin solved the problems presented to them. Do you think the tamarin really understands the physical concept of gravity, or is the animal simply figuring out how the world works? Similarly, when babies throw objects out of their cribs and high chairs, do you think they are "testing gravity" or finding out how things work? To what extent do human researchers need to be careful to avoid projecting too much onto the subject?


ANSWERS

Click here to see the answers.






 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.