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Kinesthetic Learning: Moving Toward a New Model for Education

Kinesthetic Learning: Moving Toward a New Model for Education

25 February, 2016

How do people learn?

Research has found that it is our learning process, not our intelligence, that is the most significant factor in determining our abilities — making it vitally important to examine how we teach our students.

So we must ask: how are we most effective at learning and retaining information? Is it when we are hearing, seeing, doing, creating, or some combination of the above? Lately, multi-disciplinary learning has become the trend in education, enabling students to make connections between seemingly disparate subjects. Kinesthetic learning takes this model to the next level by connecting the different ways in which we learn, and this process allows a more effective understanding and retention of information.

In kinesthetic learning, movement and action replace more passive forms of learning, such as listening to a lecture. Everybody has possibly experienced the effectiveness of this style of learning. Regardless of how many years it has been since something is learned, most people can still ride a bike and swim across a pool. No matter how much we memorize, recite, and study, our muscle memory seems to trump our brains alone. We learn best when we combine mind and body. So let’s use our bodies to their fullest advantage and bring kinesthetic learning into our classrooms.

Math and Movement

Kinesthetic learning is based on creativity, which makes math a natural pairing. There is a widespread misconception that STEM fields stifle creativity. But math also needs creativity and a willingness to tackle a problem from multiple angles. In fact, STEM fields are about creative problem solving, not rote memorization. Certainly, math requires rigor and discipline to master. But so do dance, sports, or writing a paper.

Because movement lets a student to have an alternative approach to the information, it can help put students in the receptive state necessary for learning. This breaching of mental barriers is especially significant for young women, who are more likely to self-limit their abilities because of the social stigma associated with mathematics and STEM fields. STEM is increasingly shaping our future, and kinesthetic learning can help encourage students to pursue STEM.

Creating Confidence

An after-school program, SHINE for Girls, uses kinesthetic learning by combining math with dance. The unique curriculum focuses on building both mathematical facility and self-confidence in young girls, and has been recognized by CBS Evening News, FOX 25, and The Boston Globe for its work in bridging the gender gap in STEM fields. It is targeted to a middle school audience, an age at which studies have proven that girls lose interest in STEM. Kinesthetic learning has seen incredible results — the girls demonstrated a 273 percent improvement in math scores and a 110 percent improvement in confidence as measured by pre- and post-tests.

The success of the program is because of the following factors:

  1. Turning the “I Can’t” Around

Using kinesthetic learning, girls are able to learn math in an environment when their mental barriers are not up. For example, algebra can be initiated through choreography. Girls can create a simple dance of three twirls followed by a jump, and will write it down as: “3x+y where x = twirl, y = jump.” Through dancing, girls realize that 3(x+y) = 3x + y + 2y. Before they can say, “I can’t do algebra,” they already have. This begins the positive feedback loop of girls believing in themselves, and their confidence stems from knowing that they have the ability to succeed.

  1. Team-Based Problem Solving

Students shouldn’t know the answer to questions before they are asked, and they are deliberately given hard questions that they have to solve together in teams. Recognizing that they are up to the challenge creates students who are more curious and more motivated. Throughout the program, girls began to lead solving problems on the board voluntarily, and teachers reported that the girls began to raise their hands in classes. Team learning and cheering each other on is a large part of the supportive environment.

  1. Learning Without Boxes

An important part teaching is by motivating each girl to be who she wants to be, without regard for previously conceived notions of who she is or what is cool. By showing students that they can succeed in a subject they were struggling with, kinesthetic learning is able to transcend the boundaries of what kids think they like. Having the mentors as women pursuing STEM fields gives the younger generation with role models.

Changing the Story

Action and intellect can be combined to revolutionize learning. Our education system should be a beacon of creativity that encourages curiosity. Let’s not fall behind, but instead leap forward with education that allows kids to confidently throw both their minds and bodies into learning.