Spring 2018 Newsletter | Community

Research and Outreach Collaboration with UMass Extension Urban 4-H Program in Springfield

Several PBS faculty, graduate students, and staff members of the developmental science program have been working with UMass Extension 4-H to deliver “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) hands-on educational and research participation activities on healthy behavior and brain development to Springfield youth. The work this year has been at the Chestnut Accelerated Middle School Talented and Gifted and in the Healthy Development Initiative lab at the UMass Center at Springfield, led by graduate students Sarah McCormick and Xingjie Chen, and staff members Lizmarie Lopez-Ortiz, Brynn Boutin and Erik Arnold. A pilot project is currently underway to expand and include more students. The work is supported, in part, by UMass CAFÉ field station support to Professors Youngbin Kwak and Kirby Deater-Deckard.

Brynn Boutin walks through an exercise with Chestnut T.A.G. students.

Erik Arnold briefs students on their cooperative activity.

PBS Labs Attend Science Night at the Jackson Street School

The Language, Intersensory Perception, and Speech (LIPS) Lab, directed by Alexandra Jesse, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, participated in the Jackson Street School’s annual Science Night to inform parents and students about psycholinguistics. Parents and students greatly enjoyed the presentations and activities that had been prepared by the undergraduate student research assistants working in the LIPS lab, namely Emilee Bates, Chantel Brennan, Sarah Hammond, Anarose Hogan, Smriti Karwa, Emma Leahey, Alexa Livingstone, Anna Paterson, and Noah Sullivan, under Alexandra Jesse’s guidance.

Parents and students learned from Smriti Karwa how speech is produced and watched vocal folds produce speech.

Visitors were also excited to participate in an activity hosted by Sarah Hammond, that allowed them to see their own speech converted into Lissajous figures by a laser. By speaking into a tube, the speech waves vibrated a rubber skin. Louder speech produces larger vibrations than softer speech. Speech spoken at a higher pitch produces faster vibrations than speech spoken at a lower pitch. These vibrations were picked up by a laser that projected them as Lissajous figures against a wall.

Participants also enjoyed learning from Noah Sullivan about the “secret” code that psycholinguists use to map each speech sound into its own unique symbol. Children were excited to be able to take home their own name written in that code.

In another fun activity, children trained with Alexandra Jesse on becoming “spies” – they tested their ability to read the lips of a speaker and were amazed by how they fell for the McGurk effect, as they perceived “da” when hearing a speaker say “ba” while seeing that speaker’s lips produce “ga”. Visitors further experienced how reading is automatic by trying out the Stroop effect.

An exhibition presented by Alexa Livingstone highlighted the importance of preserving languages and educated parents and students about Wampanoag (Wôpanâak), a language once widely spoken in coastal Massachusetts by Native Americans and now being revived as a native language. Visitors enjoyed learning about words from Wampanoag that were adapted into English (e.g., pumpkin, skunk, and moose).

The Cognitive and Developmental Neuroscience (CoDeNeuro) Lab, directed by Joonkoo Park, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, also participated in the Science Night. Lab members created interactive exercises using ipads, investigating the co-evolution of mathematics and linguistics thinking. In particular, they are looking into the recursive properties of both math and language to see if there is a fundamental similarity between these two domains. Their research is concentrated in typically developing children between the ages of 5-8 years-old. These scientists hope that their study will aid in mitigating the struggle between learning both language and math in school settings.