Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"Hands-on" Thinking

The current edition of Scientific American Mind summarizes a fascinating finding. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that children who used gestures while explaining how they approached a math problem developed new problem-solving strategies and became more responsive to additional instruction. Talking “with their hands” prompted new thinking and prepared subjects for new learning.

This is an intriguing finding. Researchers have believed for some time that connections between the cerebellum, which coordinates physical action, and other brain regions may play a role in coordinating thought. Imagine watching a figure skater just learning a new move contrasted with a figure skater who has performed that same move for years. The smoothness with which the veteran performs the move is due in large part to the cerebellum. So, if smoothness of physical movement and fluidity of thought share neural geography, it would not be surprising to find one positively influencing the other.

However, what’s fascinating here is the increased receptivity to additional instruction. Gesturing actually influenced learner motivation and eagerness for additional teaching. Makes me want to ask students to show (with their hands) and tell more often. Apparently, “hands-on thinking” has its advantages!

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