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The Effect of Gesture on Math Learning in Conjunction with Effects on Parental Education Level on Math Learning

Thu, March 21, 12:30 to 1:45pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Previous research demonstrates that access to STEM careers is blocked for those with few resources. For example, early parent-child communicative interactions have shown to influence cognitive development. In particular, enriched parent-child interactions help establish a solid cognitive foundation during elementary school aged children (Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1993). Moreover, the higher the education level of the parent, the higher the quality of child-parent communication and consequently the more positive the cognitive development for the child (Semba et al., 2001). Recently, studies have shown when verbal instruction in math and science is accompanied by gestures that anchor and concretize abstract verbal information, learning is enhanced across all children, (Koumoutsakis et al, 2016). To our knowledge there has not been any research done examining the combined roles of parent education level and instructional gesture. Our research examines the roles of both parent education level and school-based instruction of math concepts including gesture on math learning for second grade children. We examined 318 children, ages 7-9, from 24 Chicago public schools, using a pretest-instruction-posttest design. We also collected information about parents’ level of education.We investigated children’s understanding of symbolic equivalence (understanding the meaning of the equal sign in problems like 3+4+5= __+5). Children in second grade fail to solve these problems correctly because of their misconception about what the equal sign means. Children typically add numbers up to the equal sign (ignoring the number on the right side) or add all of the numbers. That is, children don’t understand that the equal sign means that both sides of the equal sign have to be the same amount. Understanding symbolic equivalence is an important foundation for understanding complex math concepts. Children completed a math pretest on problems like 3+4+5=__+5, then was randomly assigned to watch one of two instructional videos; one video contained only speech instruction while the other video contained speech instruction with gesture that provided spatial support for the speech. After watching the video instruction, children completed a posttest. Learning was determined by an increase in correct solutions from the pre- to the posttest. We hypothesized that instructional gesture mitigates the negative impact of parent’s low education level. We found that children, whose primary parent did not attend college, were significantly more likely to learn from instruction that includes gesture (33% increased increased in correct solutions) than instruction that did not include gesture (14% increased in correct solutions, p = .002). In contrast, children whose primary parent did attend college benefited equally from instruction with gesture (39% increased in correct solutions) and without gesture (39% increased in correct solutions, p = .58). This research suggests that gesture produced during math instruction may help students learn math, in particular “first generation” students, increasing their academic capacity to pursue careers like STEM.


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