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Teachers' gestures boost math learning!

Mar. 29, 2013 — Students perform better when their instructors use hand gestures -- a simple teaching tool that could yield benefits in higher-level math such as algebra.

A study published in Child Development,the top-ranked educational psychology journal, provides some of the strongest evidence yet that gesturing may have a unique effect on learning. Teachers in the United States tend to use gestures less than teachers in other countries. "Gesturing can be a very beneficial tool that is completely free and easily employed in classrooms," said Kimberly Fenn, study co-author and assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University. "And I think it can have long-lasting effects."
Fenn and Ryan Duffy of MSU and Susan Cook of the University of Iowa conducted an experiment with 184 second-, third- and fourth-graders in Michigan elementary classrooms.
Half ofthe students were shown videos of an instructor teaching math problems using only speech. The others were shown videos of the instructor teaching the same problems using both speech and gestures.
The problem involved mathematical equivalence (i.e., 4+5+7=__+7), which is known to be critical to later algebraic learning. In the speech-only videos, the instructor simply explains the problem. In the other videos, the instructor uses two hand gestures while speaking, using different hands to refer to the two sides of the equation.
Students who learned from the gesture videos performed better on a test given immediately afterward than those who learned from the speech-only video.
Another test was given 24 hours later, and the gesture students actually showed improvement in their performance while the speech-only students did not.
While previous research has shown the benefits of gestures in a one-on-one tutoring-style environment, the new study is the first to test the role of gestures in equivalence learning in a regular classroom.
The study also is the first to show that gestures can help students transfer learning to new contexts -- such as transferring the knowledge learned in an addition-based equation to a multiplication-based equation.
Fenn noted that U.S. students lag behind those in many other Western countries in math and have a particularly hard time mastering equivalence problems in early grades.
"So if we can help them grasp this foundational knowledge earlier," she said, "it will help them as they learn algebra and higher levels of mathematics."
Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:
  1. Susan Wagner Cook, Ryan G. Duffy, Kimberly M. Fenn.Consolidation and Transfer of Learning After Observing Hand GestureChild Development, 2013; DOI:10.1111/cdev.12097

How to Combat Academic Burnout (in one weekend or less!)

Burnt Matchstick Art,
Stanislav Aristov 16
Has your interest in the courses you've been teaching, lessened?
Are your lectures less inspiring than they once were?
Does class participation seem to decrease?

If this sounds like you, or someone you know, perhaps they are battling with Academic Burnout. This  malady commonly occurs during an academic year, but particularly when you, the professor, teacher, presenter, or instructor, have not been inspired. Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work. The causes for burnout in the academic realm are varied, but I liken the primary source to the following aphorism:
"A vessel filled with only self, will soon become empty."
You can combat your academic interest over a single weekend, and reap the benefits for years to come. Here's how:

Outside Resources
Begin by re-examining what your interests are. If you find that what grabbed your attention years ago is no longer attention grabbing, consider signing up for the Each week you will be sent dozens of informational discussions and articles across a spectrum of interests...and it is free.

Outside Parallel Think Groups 
If you have been teaching in a niche area, consider searching LinkedIn groups for forums that match your niche. If none exists, why not start one of your own and draw other like minded academics to you. Regardless as to how specific your interest is, there is a better than great chance that you will find others on LinkedIn, or draw others there. I mention this platform simply because of the level of credibility and professionalism I've experienced in groups I'm associated with.

Outside 'Virtual Assistance'
A less labor intensive method for generating new ideas or cultivating promising research with current information is, use of curated content.,, and other source/sites can scrub the internet for applicable information and present it directly to you daily, or even twice daily! You control what is searched for, and you decide what to examine or ignore. It's a lot like having a personal virtual assistant reporting to you with informational articles, book reviews, interviews and other relevant and thought provoking information.

Whether you settle on on one or more of the tactics presented, the next step is where you actually release the hold burnout has latched onto you. Regardless as to the depth of the information your 'virtual assistant' has brought to you, it is essential that you take the next step and validate it.
"Trust, but verify."
Breath New Life Into Old Techniques
At this stage, you will begin to reclaim some of the vigor and interest you once held. You can begin to examine new ways of presenting the information, or expand on methods you already use. For example if you have traditionally lectured on the parts of the brain, and how the represent memory, cognition, motor skills, or emotion; you might consider integrating your slide presentation with a Movenote generated video ( which allows you to break your lecture into smaller 5,10,or 15 minute consumable 'chunks'.

Your audience can watch your video on their mobile device before a quiz or exam, or simply be better prepared to engage in the class discussion. Here is an example I created to explain the program redesign for Criminal Justice What you will notice is the capability of integrating text, slides, or other media in a consumable and interesting format, which can be leveraged in various ways in your classroom. I mention Movenote because I've been using it in my classrooms with great success, and for academics, there is no cost.

I hope that you will explore these ideas and recommendations, and reclaim the vigor and interest that brought you into academia to begin with, and combat your burnout! I would love to hear from you as to how you employed these and other ideas to combat and defeat your academic burnout. Feel free to comment here, follow my on Twitter @Mfaculty, or drop me an email at

Best wishes
Dr. Eugene Matthews

Daily online testing boosts college performance, reduces achievement gaps

Daily online testing boosts college performance, reduces achievement gaps
Nov. 21, 2013 — More low-income students are attending college than ever before, but many of them are ill prepared for the challenges of higher learning. Now University of Texas at Austin researchers are finding ways to level the higher-education playing field with a new online learning model. 
With a new teaching platform called TOWER (Texas Online World of Educational Research), psychology professors James Pennebaker and Samuel Gosling are transforming the way students learn. The findings, published online this month in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE, show the customized online teaching model leads to improved test scores and attendance for all students. But students of low socioeconomic status are benefiting the most.
In fall 2011, Pennebaker and Gosling integrated the TOWER system into their large classroom-based Psychology 301 course, in which they delivered personalized in-class quizzes, free online readings, small discussion groups, and live chats to each student's laptop or tablet. Facilitated by Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services, the new system allowed the researchers to retrieve data about the students and see how they navigated the online tools.
The researchers found that daily "benchmark" quizzes, which were followed up with instant results on incorrectly answered questions, helped the students remember and learn from their mistakes, says Pennebaker.
"One important self-regulatory method to improve preparation and performance is to give students frequent testing along with rapid, targeted and structured feedback on their performance, so that they can adjust their learning and studying strategies in time to improve their grades in a course," says Pennebaker, who team-teaches the course with Gosling.
In the experiment, 901 students enrolled in the fall 2011 TOWER course provided information about their parents' education levels. The subjects took 26 brief multiple-choice quizzes at the beginning of every class. Eighty-six percent of the final grade was based on the quizzes, and 14 percent was based on online writing assignments. No final or other exams were administered. The TOWER student performance was compared with 935 students enrolled in Gosling's and Pennebaker's previous traditional Psychology 301 courses, in which four exams accounted for the bulk of the final grade.
According to the results:
- The new system resulted in a 50 percent reduction in the achievement gap as measured by grades among students of different social classes.
- TOWER students performed better in other classes, both in the semester they took the course and in subsequent semester classes.
- TOWER exam performance was about half a letter grade above previous semesters, based on comparisons of identical questions asked from earlier years.
- The daily quizzes encouraged students to attend classes at much higher rates.
The researchers attribute much of the students' success to the daily quizzes, which required them to diligently keep up with the material. As a result, they developed better skills in time management and studying.
"These findings suggest that frequent quizzing should be used routinely in large lecture courses to improve performance in class and in other concurrent and subsequent courses," Gosling says. "Repeated testing of students does much more than assess learning skills; it is a powerful vehicle that directly enhances learning and thinking skills."
This fall, the researchers implemented the TOWER model into their live-broadcast online Psychology 301 class, called a SMOC (synchronous massive online course). Gosling says this new online platform will help instructors provide rapid, individualized feedback on students' performance in massive lecture courses, a feat that is not possible even in average-size conventional classes.
"In light of the benefits of frequent testing with immediate feedback, colleges might benefit from adopting these methods during students' first semesters so they can continue to benefit from the learning skills they acquire," Gosling says.

Who learns from the carrot, and who from the stick?

Who learns from the carrot, and who from the stick?

Nov. 21, 2013 — To flexibly deal with our ever-changing world, we need to learn from both the negative and positive consequences of our behaviour. In other words, from punishment and reward. Hanneke den Ouden from the Donders Institute in Nijmegen demonstrated that serotonin and dopamine related genes influence how we base our choices on past punishments or rewards. This influence depends on which gene variant you inherited from your parents.

These results  were published in Neuronon 20 November.
The brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin partly determine our sensitivity to reward and punishment. At least, this was a common assumption. Hanneke den Ouden and Roshan Cools investigated this assumption together with colleagues from the Donders Institute and New York University. Den Ouden explains: 'We used a simple computer game to test the genetic influence of the genes DAT1 and SERT, as these genes influence dopamine and serotonin. We discovered that the dopamine gene affects how we learn from the long-term consequences of our choices, while the serotonin gene affects our choices in the short term.'
Online game
'In nearly 700 people we analysed which variant of the SERTand the DAT1 genes they had', Den Ouden describes. 'Using an online game, we investigated how well people are able to adjust their choice strategy after receiving a reward or a punishment.' The players would repeatedly choose one of two symbols. Symbol A usually resulted in a reward whereas symbol B usually resulted in punishment. Halfway through the game, these rules were reversed. The game allowed the researchers to measure how flexible people are in adjusting their choices when the rules change. But it also showed whether people impulsively change their choice when the computer happened to give misleading feedback.
Different genes, different strategies
Den Ouden: 'Different players use different strategies. It all depends on their genetic material. People's tendency to change their choice immediately after receiving a punishment depends on which serotonin gene variant they inherited from their parents. The dopamine gene variant, on the other hand, exerts influence on whether people can stop themselves making the choice that was previously rewarded, but no longer is.'
This study shows that dopamine and serotonin are important for different forms of flexibility associated with receiving reward and punishment. Many neuropsychiatric disorders caused by abnormal dopamine and/or serotonin levels are associated with forms of inflexibility, for example addiction, anxiety, or Parkinson's disease. So this study not only tells us more about the heritability of our choice behaviour; a better understanding of the relationship between brain chemicals and behaviour in healthy people will ultimately help to provide us with better insight into these neuropsychiatric disorders.

EduCanon - A new way to leverage an old tool!

How can you build an interactive lesson from a YouTube video, for free? Check out EduCanon!

Click here to get answers to some of the top questions regarding eduCanon including who they are and how it works! Although they've been around for awhile, I just stumbled across them while searching for another way to communicate with my students using video. This platform offers a lot of value added utility, although right now it is somewhat limited to YouTube. That's actually not a bad thing since YouTube is such a simple tool to use.

As an instructor you can also record your lectures, portions of class discussions, and pose questions in a variety of ways for students to interact with. There are a lot of expensive and inexpensive alternatives, but this is one of the first ones that I've come across that was actually free and follows a reasonable learning pedagogy. Perhaps this is the tool you've been waiting for to 'flip your class' or simply enhance your instruction. I plan to "kick the tires" on it myself before I dive in head first!

SQ3R - Learning Skills from (old school - new tools)

SQ3R - Learning Skills from


Studying More Effectively

"Mind Map" is a trademark of the Buzan Organization (see We have no association with the Buzan Organization.

There are better ways to retain information!
© iStockphoto/Cimmerian
Nowadays, it's easy to access new reading material. You can read on a smartphone, tablet, or e-book reader, and you can order traditional media such as books and magazines for next-day (or same-day) delivery.
However, it's not so easy to remember everything that you've read.
SQ3R helps you do this. It helps you think about what you want to get from a document, study it in an appropriate level of detail, and remember information well.
As such, it makes your reading both more efficient and more effective.
In this article, we'll look at how to use SQ3R, and we'll see how you can make it a routine part of the way you learn.


Francis Pleasant Robinson developed SQ3R, and published it in his 1946 book, "Effective Study." He created the technique for college students, but, even now, it's suitable for learning in almost every situation, including at work.
SQ3R is an acronym that stands for five steps that you should use when reading something that you want to remember. These five steps are:
  1. Survey.
  2. Question.
  3. Read.
  4. Recall.
  5. Review.
By following these steps, you ensure that you spend your time reading the most appropriate document, you study the right parts of that document in the right level of detail, you integrate new knowledge with existing knowledge, and you fix information in your mind, so that you can remember it in the long term.

Applying the Tool

To use SQ3R, follow the five steps below.

Step 1: Survey

Start by skimming through the material you've identified, to decide if it will be useful and to get an overview of the topic.
For example, if you've selected a book, scan the contents, introduction, chapter introductions, and chapter summaries to pick up an overview of the text.
For a website, look at the "breadcrumbs," which indicate the relative location of pages within the site. (If breadcrumbs are used, they're usually at the top of the page.) Also use the menus or the site map to see where the article sits within the overall structure of the site.
Then, look at typographical elements of the text, such as italics, bold words, subheadings, and boxed text. These often point to words or ideas that are important.
Last, explore any images, maps, charts, or diagrams that are embedded in the text.
Use these clues to decide whether this text will give you the information you're looking for. If it doesn't meet your needs, look for a different information source.

Step 2: Question

Now note down any questions that you may have about the subject. These could be the questions that led you to read it in the first place, or ones that you thought of during your survey.
Also, think about what else you want to achieve from this reading. What do you need to find out from this material? What are you most interested in learning? And how will this information help you?
When you question the material, you engage your mind and prepare it for learning. You're far more likely to retain information when you're actively looking for it.

Step 3: Read

Now read the document, one section at a time. Make a note of anything that you don't understand – you can use these notes later on, when you explore related materials.
You may find that this read-through takes more time than you expect, especially if the information is dense or complex.
Keep yourself focused by turning every subheading or chapter title into a question that you must answer before you move on. For example, you could turn the subtitle, "The Advantages of SQ3R" into the question, "What are the advantages of SQ3R?" and run through the answer in your mind before you move onto the next part of the text.


While you're reading, use Mind Maps®   or Cornell Note Taking   to take notes on important concepts, and to record your reactions to what you're reading. Alternatively (and if you own the document) you can "read actively" by underlining important passages or by using a highlighter pen to show key points.

Step 4: Recall

Once you've read the appropriate sections of the document, run through it in your mind several times. Identify the important points, and then work out how other information fits around them.
Then, go back to your questions from Step 2, and try to answer them from memory. Only turn back to the text if you're unable to answer a question this way.

Step 5: Review

Once you can recall the information, you can start to review it.
First, reread the document or your notes. This is especially important if you don't feel confident that you've understood all of the information.
Then discuss the material with someone else – this is a highly effective method of reviewing information. Explain what you have just learned as comprehensively as you can, and do your best to put the information into a context that's meaningful for your team, organization, or industry.
Finally, schedule regular reviews of the material to keep it fresh in your mind. Do this after a week, after a month, and after several months – this helps to embed the material into your long-term memory.


If you don't have the chance to discuss your learning face to face, consider keeping a blog or creating fact sheets to outline what you've learned.

Making SQ3R a Habit

At first, SQ3R may feel time-consuming. However, the more you use it, the less you'll have to think about the process.
To turn this reading technique into a habit  , use it each time you need to read something in detail. At first, allow extra time to get into the habit of using the five steps, and look for opportunities to discuss what you've learned with colleagues.

Key Points

SQ3R is five-step technique that you can use to learn more effectively, and to increase your retention of written information. It helps you to focus what you need from a document, and to create a clear structure for the information in your mind.
SQ3R's step are:
  1. Survey.
  2. Question.
  3. Read.
  4. Recall.
  5. Review.
You can use SQ3R whether you're reading online or on paper. It can take extra time to follow the five steps at first, but you'll find that if you make the effort, you'll learn and retain significantly more.
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