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Maths teaching 'could be more effective when incorporating physical movement'

21/02/2017 Joanna

Children who are encouraged to get physically active while learning maths may see improved attainment, according to new research.

A study from the University of Copenhagen has indicated that children generally improve at maths when the instruction method engages them physically, with 165 Danish first-grade students in the Copenhagen area taking part in the research.

The children were divided into three groups, with the first using their whole bodies to form triangles or shape numerals, or to use each other when being asked to add or subtract. A second group was sedentary and worked on math using fine motor skill, with tasks including the use of Lego bricks to solve problems arithmetic or build geometric models. Finally, the third group stuck with conventional instruction using pencils, paper and rulers.

After six weeks of the study, all of the children taught using a physical approach were able to improve their scores in a standardised 50-question test. Children whose instruction included whole-body activity performed best, with their performance improving by 7.6 per cent, with nearly four more correct responses than the baseline, and twice as much improvement as the sedentary fine motor skills group.

Head researcher Jacob Wienecke, an associate professor of the University of Copenhagen's department of nutrition, exercise and sports, said: "The children learn more if they move and use the whole body to learn.

"Compared to previous studies, which demonstrated that intense physical activity could improve learning outcomes, we have been able to show that lower intensity activities are just as effective, or even more effective, as long as movement is integrated into the topic at hand."

However, it was also noted that children with average and above-average performance levels benefitted most from this approach, while those who struggled with maths prior to the study received no particular benefit. This highlights an ongoing need for additional individualised approaches to maths teaching.

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