No matter what kind of school you go to (and even if you’re home schooled), you have to take math. Scientists have known for a long time that movements help us remember things. New research shows that gesturing helps students develop new ways of understanding mathematics.

This is the first time research has shown that gestures not only help recover old ideas, they also help create new ones. The information could be helpful to teachers (who might want to do something along the lines of invent a “YMCA” type song with movements to go along with new mathematical concepts).

Psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow says, “This study suggests that we may be able to lay the foundation for new knowledge just by telling learners how to move their hands.” For the study, 128 fourth-grade students were given basic math problems. None of the students had been successful in solving that type of problem in an earlier test. The students were randomly divided into three instruction groups. All of the students were then given the same mathematics lesson, but each group was given different gestures at the time the equation was explained. The experimenter demonstrating the gesture did not explain the movement or comment about it. On each problem during the lesson, they were told to repeat the words or words and gestures they had been taught.

Students who repeated the correct gesture during the lesson solved more problems correctly than students who repeated the partially correct gesture, who, in turn, solved more problems correctly than students who repeated only the words.

Goldin-Meadow says, “Children were thus able to extract information from their own hand movements. This process may be the mechanism by which gesturing influences learning.”

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