The Right Gesture in Math

By Sean Cavanagh — February 26, 2009 1 min read
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Most teachers have probably seen their students transmit all kinds of silly, strange, and downright inappropriate gestures over the course of the school day. But sometimes in-class gestures can have a benign and productive effect, at least in mathematics.

That’s the conclusion of a new study published online in the journal Psychological Science this month. It found that children required to produce correct gestures learned more than children required to produce partially correct gestures, who, in turn, learned more than children required to produce no gestures.

The researchers, who included Susan Wagner Cook of the University of Chicago and others from that institution and the University of Iowa, manipulated student gestures during math lessons and studied the results.

The findings suggest that body movements are related not only to processing old ideas, but also in creating new ones, the authors assert. “We may be able to lay foundations for new knowledge simply by telling learners how to move their hands,” the study explains in its abstract.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.