It’s almost folk wisdom that hands-on learning helps children to retain what they’ve learned better. Thus, math manipulatives like counters, abacuses, and geometric blocks are often used to teach young children math. New research though indicates that hands-on learning isn’t an indiscriminate assist tool. Pyschologists at Notre Dame University conducted a study asking adult participants to analyze a series of complex geometric patterns. Half of the participants held their hands alongside the images and the other half held their hands in their laps. The researchers found that it was more difficult for participants to recognize similarities in identical but differently-colored patterns when they were holding them in their hands. Those who had their hands in their laps however paid more attention to similarities and consistencies. This suggests that information near the hands is processed with a greater attention to detail. Nowadays with its hands-on apps, the iPad is quickly becoming a popular math manipulative in schools. Since similarities are not as noticeable when objects are held in the hands, developers may need to consider this research when designing a game or learning tool for the iPad vs the computer.
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