Hands-on theatrical experience takes students to the molecular level

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Amy Schneider
School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
(404) 385-2299
news@chbe.gatech.edu

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"Group Intelligence" uses activities such as running and singing to help students understand complex scientific concepts about molecular alignment and assembly.

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"Group Intelligence" uses activities such as running and singing to help students understand complex scientific concepts about molecular alignment and assembly.

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It’s not immediately obvious to many people how running, singing and passing erasers as directed by an audio recording — sort of a high-tech version of “Simon Says” — can help high school students learn scientific concepts such as molecule alignment and assembly. But Georgia Tech’s Center for Chemical Evolution and Out of Hand Theater are showing how the arts can help students tackle complex scientific studies.

On June 27, high school students and teachers from the Georgia Intern Fellowships for Teachers (GIFT) program gathered in the courtyard outside Georgia Tech’s Instructional Center for a 20-minute hands-on exercise called “Group Intelligence.”

Martha Grover, a faculty member in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, serves as a science advisor for “Group Intelligence,” which was developed by Out of Hand Theater and is supported by funds from the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“Our goal is to suggest analogies between groups of molecules and groups of people,” Grover said. “The participants experience the assembly and draw their own conclusions.”

She and Ariel Fristoe, co-artistic director of Out of Hand Theater, observed as the group followed the instructions given by a woman’s voice on the recording:

Organize yourselves by eye color. Run in haphazard directions until you all start to run in the same pattern. Sing whatever song comes to mind and mingle until everyone is singing the same song (this group ended up with “The Wheels on the Bus”). Form two lines and pass erasers down the lines without dropping them or moving your feet.

Behind the activities are lessons about the importance of diversity, collaboration, leadership and competition in molecular formations and the development and functioning of living things.

Lindsay Whiteman, a chemistry and biology teacher at Sprayberry High School in Marietta and a GIFT recipient, was participating in a “Group Intelligence” for the first time and gauging whether it would be an effective tool for her classrooms this fall.

“The ‘Group Intelligence’ activity seemed like a great way for students to understand conceptually how molecules behave when they cannot see or fathom what is going on at the molecular level,” Whiteman said. “High school students struggle with abstract thought and spatial understanding, so this forces them to see how the molecules assemble and understand that they are working toward a common goal and that these natural forces create this act of group intelligence.

“The students really seemed to enjoy the activity itself and made many connections during our group discussion afterward about what each step represented. I will definitely be using this in my class.”

For more information about the activity or to order it for a classroom experience, click here.

Photo captions:

PHOTO 1: Participants in “Group Intelligence” self-assemble into groups of three to form equilateral triangles.

PHOTO 2: Martha Grover (left), ChBE professor and part of the Center for Chemical Evolution, and Ariel Fristoe, co-artistic director at Out of Hand Theater, watch the “Group Intelligence” activity under way.

PHOTO 3: Participants form a human DNA chain.

PHOTO 4: “Group Intelligence” participants get into the competitive spirit of the eraser-passing activity.

PHOTO 5: Group members march and clap after converting cacophony into a unison rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus.”

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School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

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  • Created By: Amy Schneider
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Jul 22, 2014 - 12:34pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:16pm