New research suggests that teaching maths using abstract gestures helps children to learn.
A report in the journal Psychological Science describes how eight year-olds gained a deeper understanding of the subject using their hands as well as their brains.
Youngsters were taught to solve formulae such as: "4 + 2 + 6 = _ + 6" by by making a V-point beneath the number to be added then pointing at the blank space, the BBC reports.
The study builds on previous research which provides evidence that gestures can aid the learning process.
While other studies have shown that expressing ideas physically can aid the learning process, the new research shows that it may be a more effective pedagogical tool than encouraging children to touch and manipulate objects.
Psychologists taught 100 children aged eight and nine a strategy for solving a simple sum.
One group used number tiles and placed them on a magnetic whiteboard, the next mimed the action without touching the tiles, while the third was taught to use abstract V-point gestures with their hands to group numbers and solve the equations
When the children were tested to find out how well they understood the underlying principles, only the children who had used gestures were successful in solving problems that required them to generalise.
"Our study found that encouraging children to move, and encouraging them to gesture, more specifically, helps them learn an idea, but in addition helps them generalise that idea," said Miriam Novack, of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago.
"In contrast children who were encouraged to move and manipulate objects fixated too much on those objects and got too focused on the surface features of the problem."
Co-researcher Eliza Congdon said the study may subvert the conventional wisdom that getting children to interact directly with objects is the best way of encouraging them to learn.
Mathematics teaching methods in particular have attracted a great deal of media attention in recent weeks, with the Department for Education announcing that teachers from Shanghai are to be flown to the UK to share knowledge with their English counterparts.
The move attracted criticism from the National Union of Teachers, with general secretary Christine Blower saying it is "ridiculous" to suggest teachers from other countries have more expertise than those in the UK.
Posted by Alan Douglas