Science project

Efficient Multi-tasking

Research Questions:

  • Define multitasking?
  • What do we mean when we say that the brain is a sequential processor?
  • Why do we think that multitasking should be more productive than focusing on one task one at a time?
  • What does research tell us about the effectiveness of multitasking? Is it true that when we are performing two demanding tasks simultaneously, we end up doing they poorly?
  • What are brain imaging machines and how are they used?
  • What are voxels? How are they used in brain research? What can they tell us about multitasking?

On the information level, the student is acquainted with basic information on the ability of the brain to process a variety of types of information. In the case of multitasking, this project presents an excellent opportunity to search for evidence for the claim that multitasking is more productive than dealing with one task at a time and that the results are indeed positive. Keeping in mind the that the brain processes information in a sequential manner , the student will gather first hand data and possibly agree with what John Medina quotes in this book, Brain Rules, “Taking your sequential brain into a multitasking environment can be like trying to put your right foot into your left shoe.” The student`s task in this project is to show us the evidence. Is John Medina right? Ware dealing with two tasks each requiring the brain`s full attention? Are our brains capable of doing this or are we taxing and draining it?

As for the methodology of this project, this science fair project also serves to acquaint students with the essential processes of sciencing, of researching techniques and learning about the importance of identifying dependent and independent variables, of proper and accurate data collection, of pictorial and or graphic presentation of data and of being able to make better judgments as to the validity and reliability of their findings. They become aware of the importance of the size of the sample population and whether the sample was truly representative of the group they are investigating. They learn about what researchers do and begin to replicate the process. In the process of researching, they become not only researchers but less gullible and better judges of the validity and reliability of research studies.


  • Copies of the two math problems: The Missionaries and The Cannibals and the Dark Phobia
  • short story of your choice
  • tape recorder
  • watch

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Gather all the materials which you will need for this project. Select the short story that you will record on your tape recorder to play for your subjects. Copy the student’s worksheets containing the puzzle the subjects will try to solve while they are listening to the recording of the short story you selected. Copy the The Data Charts for data collection and the data summary.
  2. Select your subjects. The greater the number of subjects, the better your results. You want to have an ample sample of subjects. You may decide to keep it to one gender or both and within the same age range.
  3. Record your hypothesis. What do you predict will be the results of this project? Is multi tasking effective and a real time saver? Will our brains be stimulated by this challenge or be confused and drained?
  4. Gather your subjects and describe precisely what they are being asked to do, namely multitask. Tell them that they will be presented with a word problem in mathematics which they are going to try to solve while they are listening to a recording of a short story. Add that they will be required to answer a few questions about the short story as well as provide a written solution to the math problem. Explain that they will be timed in that we require information as to how long it took each subject to complete both tasks to their own satisfaction. Explain that they are to record the starting time and completion time for each task on their sheets.
  5. Distribute the student work sheets, note the starting time, start the tape recorder and let the work begin. Remind students to record the starting time.
  6. When the last student is done, gather all the sheets and start collating your data on the data chart. Follow this by completing the Summary Chart.

The Student Worksheet 




Part 1. Your task is to solve The Missionary/Cannibal Problem. Here goes. You are given a small boat which can only hold 2 people at a time. You have to transport 3 cannibals and 3 missionaries to the other side of the lake. However, keep in mind that when there are more cannibals than missionaries on one side the cannibals will eat the missionaries. Your mission is to get them all across and keep them all alive.

Write your solution below:


Starting time:______                      Ending time:­­­__________


Part 2. You are listening to a recording of a short story. Answer the following questions:

1.     Where did this story take place?

2.     Who are the principal characters?

3.     What is the story about?

4.     Is there a theme or message to the story?

5.     Who is the author?


Starting time:__________     Ending time: _________

The Data Chart 


Missionary Puzzle: # solved

Total time on Missionary Task

Short Story: #solved

Total time on Short Story Task




















































The Summary Chart 


% of Subjects with Perfect Scores

Average Time to Complete Tasks

Math Puzzle



Short Story




Terms/Concepts: multitasking; sequence; sequential processor; voxel; brain drain; tasks demanding equal attention


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