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Using Gestures when Teaching Science


When we are talking to children about science, we often think carefully about the language we use, and the way we explain things.


But do you ever think about what you are doing with your hands?


Over the last week or so, I have been at a (virtual) conference on communicating science, and I found one of the talks particularly interesting. It was given by researchers who are involved in the Move2Learn project, looking at how movement, particularly hand movements, can help children learn science concepts.


The idea that movement is involved in learning is nothing new. Often called ‘embodied learning’, scientists have known for decades that physical experiences, like doing experiments, are an important part of learning. And you may have heard of VARK learning styles and 'kinaesthetic learners' who prefer to learn by physically doing something for themselves. (Although what that actually does to boost learning outcomes is another question for an upcoming blog!)


But looking specifically at gestures is a newer field. If you watch an adult interacting with a child, you will see that both naturally use their hands to explain things. But this research is hinting at the idea that kids might be able to grasp concepts using their hands (pun intended!) that they might not yet be able to explain in words.

The team are focused on informal learning environments, like science workshops and museums, but a lot of their ideas could also be applied in the classroom, or at home. With very young kids (they worked mainly with 3-6 year olds) it can often work better if you ask them to show you what they understand, or what they think might happen in an experiment, rather than telling you. And the team believe adults can encourage this by using their own hand gestures in a more purposeful way. By creating and reliably using a specific hand movement for a concept like gravity, they argue this can ‘scaffold’ the child’s learning, and make it easier for them to understand concepts, and discuss them later.



At Braintastic! Science we LOVE getting hands-on, and that’s why all our school science shows, workshops and activities involve interactive experiments that everyone can have a go at. We are already taking bookings for next term, so if you would like to give your students an embodied learning experience they won’t forget, don’t hesitate to get in touch!


References:

How sensorimotor interaction shapes and supports young children’s gestural communication around science (tandfonline.com)


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