Interesting read here:
“In the past, people have argued that as we learn we become more able to think abstractly,” says Andrew Manches, a teacher turned psychologist at the University of Edinburgh in the UK. “Young children depend on physical objects to help them, but if I’m asked in a meeting now to work out a calculation and I get out a set of blocks to help me – obviously I’m going to look silly.”
Conventional thinking might suggest that teachers should help wean children off physical objects and body gestures to prepare them for the adult world. But in truth, the physical world never really leaves our thinking. For example, when we process verbs such as lick, kick and pick, medical scanners show that the parts of our brain that control the muscles in our face, legs and hands, respectively, light up with activity. And even the most abstract of concepts may have grounding in the real world.
Body and mind
This theory is called embodied cognition, and it suggests that what goes on in our minds stems from our actions and interactions with the world around us. It means that encouraging children to think and learn in a purely abstract way might actually make lessons harder for them to understand and remember..
Science is beginning to back up the idea that actions really might speak louder than words in the classroom. Spencer Kelly, a psychologist at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, has found that people spend three times as much time gesturing when they think it is particularly important that they get a message across, suggesting that even if only at the subconscious level, we appreciate the communicative value of our body language. Kelly has also found evidence that people like a teacher better when that teacher uses arm and hand movements to emphasise points.
Yet body movements can do more than simply raise a teacher’s popularity. Studies show that young children learn more if their teacher uses gestures when explaining a concept. Meanwhile, Susan Wagner Cook, a psychologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, has found that childrenpick up new concepts more effectively if they are taught to mirror and repeat the gestures their teacher uses, and that lessons involving words and gestures live longer in a student's memory than lessons using words alone.
This can be a tricky concept for children to understand. When asked to use their hands to represent the different growth rates, some students will place one hand slightly higher than the other, but then raise both hands at the same speed. The Berkeley team’s device gives the children dedicated and instant feedback, helping them work out when their hand gestures correctly match what would happen as the two plants grow. Afterwards, even struggling students can articulate in words that they actually understand why moving their hands at different speeds is the correct response.
The Kinect sensor, meanwhile, is being used in studies to help children learn to more accurately map numbers onto physical space – a simple skill but one that is fundamental to our understanding of mathematics. Most people know, for instance, to place the number 50 exactly midway along a line marked “0” at one end and “100” at the other. Researchers at Eberhard Karls University in Tuebingen, Germany, found that seven-year-olds can place numbers along such a line more accurately if theyphysically walk the line on the floor – with their motion captured and analysed by the Kinect sensor – than if they use a mouse to interact with a computer screen representation of the line.