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Project Envisions Teaching Fractions by Touch, Movement

By Sean Cavanagh — February 06, 2013 1 min read
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A federally funded project will test students’ ability to learn fractions on mobile apps through the theory of “embodied cognition"—or, to put it in non-science-speak, manipulating and moving images and information on screens with their fingers.

It’s a relatively simple idea, with potentially far-reaching implications.

Embodied, or grounded, cognition is a scientific theory based on the idea that individuals develop increased understanding of content based on their ability to create “mental perception simulation” of what they have learned. In other words, learning is enhanced when people can feel or perform an activity, as opposed to simply watching a simulation of it, as explained by Teachers College, Columbia University, which is helping run the project. As an example, children presented with a story about farming are more likely to retain information if they are manipulating actual farm objects, rather than simply imagining that activity taking place, the researchers say.

The project, which will focus on teaching fractions to students ages 8 to 11, is being led by researchers at Teachers College and WNET, a New York City public-media provider. It’s being supported through a grant from the National Science Foundation, which has funded research across K-12 education for years.

Currently, efforts to promote student learning through apps focuses extensively on having students point and touch on their screens, says John Black, a professor of telecommunications and education at Teachers College and the principal investigator on the project. The new app would take a different approach, by asking students to move objects across a screen.

Black, citing a basic example, says students might be presented with a cup on-screen, and asked to indicate at which point it was three-quarters full. They would move their fingers across the cup on-screen, to indicate how full it should be to reach the right amount.

A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2013 edition of Digital Directions as Project Envisions Teaching Fractions by Touch, Movement


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