Gestures lend a hand in learning mathematics

February 24, 2009

Gesturing helps students develop new ways of understanding mathematics, according to research at the University of Chicago.

Scholars have known for a long time that movements help retrieve information about an event or physical activity associated with action. A report published in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science, however, is the first to show that gestures not only help recover old ideas, they also help create new ones. The information could be helpful to teachers, scholars said.

"This study highlights the importance of motor learning even in nonmotor tasks, and suggests that we may be able to lay the foundation for new knowledge just by telling learners how to move their hands," writes lead author and psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow in the article "Gesturing Gives Children New Ideas About Math".

Goldin, Meadow, the Beardsley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology, was joined by Susan Wagner Cook, now Assistant Professor of Psychology a the University of Iowa and University of Chicago research assistant Zachary Mitchell, in writing the article and doing the research.

For the study, 128 fourth-grade students were given problems of the type 3+2+8=__+8. None of the students had been successful in solving that type of problem in a pre-test. The students were randomly divided into three instruction groups.

One group was taught the words, "I want to make one side equal to the other side." Another group was taught the same words along with gestures instantiating a grouping problem-solving strategy--a V-shaped hand indicating 3+2, followed by a point at the blank (group and add 3 and 2 and put the sum in the blank). A third group was taught the words along with gestures instantiating the grouping strategy but focusing attention on the wrong numbers--a V-shaped hand indicating 2+8, followed by a point at blank. The experimenter demonstrating the gesture did not explain the movement or comment about it.

All of the students were then given the same mathematics lesson. On each problem during the lesson, they were told to repeat the words or words/gestures they had been taught.

After the lesson, students were given a test in which they solved new problems of this type and explained how they reached their answers. Students who repeated the correct gesture during the lesson solved more problems correctly than students who repeated the partially correct gesture, who, in turn, solved more problems correctly than students who repeated only the words.

The number of problems children solved correctly could be explained by whether they added the grouping strategy to their spoken repertoires after the lesson, Goldin-Meadow said. Because the experimenter never expressed the grouping strategy in speech during the lesson, and students picked it up on their own as a new idea, the study demonstrates that gesture can help create new concepts in learning.

"The grouping information students incorporated into their post-lesson speech must have come from their own gestures," Goldin-Meadow said.

"Children were thus able to extract information from their own hand movements. This process may be the mechanism by which gesturing influences learning," she said.

.
-end-


University of Chicago

Related Learning Articles from Brightsurf:

Learning the language of sugars
We're told not to eat too much sugar, but in reality, all of our cells are covered in sugar molecules called glycans.

When learning on your own is not enough
We make decisions based on not only our own learning experience, but also learning from others.

Learning more about particle collisions with machine learning
A team of Argonne scientists has devised a machine learning algorithm that calculates, with low computational time, how the ATLAS detector in the Large Hadron Collider would respond to the ten times more data expected with a planned upgrade in 2027.

Getting kids moving, and learning
Children are set to move more, improve their skills, and come up with their own creative tennis games with the launch of HomeCourtTennis, a new initiative to assist teachers and coaches with keeping kids active while at home.

How expectations influence learning
During learning, the brain is a prediction engine that continually makes theories about our environment and accurately registers whether an assumption is true or not.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Learning is optimized when we fail 15% of the time
If you're always scoring 100%, you're probably not learning anything new.

School spending cuts triggered by great recession linked to sizable learning losses for learning losses for students in hardest hit areas
Substantial school spending cuts triggered by the Great Recession were associated with sizable losses in academic achievement for students living in counties most affected by the economic downturn, according to a new study published today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Lessons in learning
A new Harvard study shows that, though students felt like they learned more from traditional lectures, they actually learned more when taking part in active learning classrooms.

Learning to look
A team led by JGI scientists has overhauled the perception of inovirus diversity.

Read More: Learning News and Learning Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.