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"Graphic Design" -- The Discovery Files

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Adding captivating visuals to a textbook lesson to attract children's interest may sometimes make it harder for them to learn, suggests a study by Ohio State University researchers.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Football crowd, whistle) Flag! Unnecessary cuteness.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Many educators surmise that if you're teaching young children about a seemingly mundane subject like how to read bar graphs, students will learn better if you make those graphs visually appealing, you know, (Sound effect: Cartoony sounds in bg) throw in some catchy artwork, colorful images. But researchers from Ohio State University have found this kind of embellishment may actually have the opposite effect.

They taught a group of 122 kindergarteners, first- and second-graders how to read bar graphs. Half learned using bars of a solid color, the other half with bars that had pictures in them, (in this case, of shoes in the lost and found) with the number of shoes in each bar equal to the value of the bars.

The researchers then had the kids try to read graphs where the number of shoes within each bar did not match the numeric value of the bars. Children who trained with the flashy picture graphs were more likely to get the values wrong, very often counting the shoes instead of looking at the height of the bars. But all of the older children and three fourths of the kindergarteners who trained on solid graphs got it right. The researchers believe making visuals engaging doesn't guarantee students will focus on what they need to learn. Such visuals can sometimes mislead, or distract.

Wonder if that's why I get hungry when I look at a pie chart.

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