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Rolling into Psychology

Molly Poage

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    The CJHS Dual Credit Psychology class is in the middle of one of their most anticipated projects: the hamster project. Students are in charge of selecting, training, and videoing a hamster doing a course that they design and build on their own over the course of several weeks of both in-class and at-home training.

    The students have the choice of using either “classical” or “operant” conditioning to train their hamster. In classical conditioning, a correct response is rewarded after the response has occurred. In operant conditioning, behavior is shaped one step at a time to reward it. Students have until the last day before spring break to train their hamster to run the course and film it twice in a row in class, or at home for partial credit.

    The students include items such as a teeter-totter, a tunnel bridge with a small ball inside that the hamster must push through, a zig-zag bridge, and a slide. The students may also add obstacles such as cup bridges that the hamster must climb across, ladders for the more athletic hamsters, ramps, hurdles, step stairs, spiral staircases, and even ziplines with containers that the hamster will step in and then slide down. The hamster must be able to run the course without being touched or guided and return to its cage for full points.

    “The hamster project tends to be one of the most fascinating parts of the class for students, as well as one of the most demanding for them,” says DC Psych teacher Terry Higgins, “I like to watch how students take ownership and responsibility as individuals within a group because they have to work within that group to be successful.” If students don’t want to keep the hamster, they may donate them to Mrs. Higgins’ younger students as a class pet, but many get attached to their hamsters and keep them even after the project has run its course.

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Rolling into Psychology