Finger tracing helps students perform better in maths, shows study
| Tuesday, February 2, 2016 - 10:46
Sydney: Mathematics has always been a troublesome and scary subject for many children. But a recent study has found that school kids who trace math problems using fingers are able to solve them more quickly and easily.
Students who use their fingers to trace over practice examples while simultaneously reading geometry or arithmetic material were able to complete tasks more quickly and correctly than those who did not use the same technique, according to researchers.
"Our findings have a range of implications for teachers and students alike. They show math learning by young students may be enhanced substantially with the simple addition of instructions to finger-trace elements of math problems," said Paul Ginns, senior lecturer at the University Of Sydney.
"We are cautiously confident such effects could be applied in the classroom and to subjects outside of math, but more research is clearly required," he said.
The research is published in Learning and Instruction and Applied Cognitive Psychology.
The study involved 275 children aged between nine and 13 and found that tracing over elements of math problems enhanced how they understood and solved problems in geometry and algebra.
Using an index finger to physically touch and trace the angles of a triangle can result in that information receiving processing priority in the brain. Doing so may reduce the load on working memory and its ability to retain complex material by 'chunking' information together, the scientists suggested.
"At the classroom level, teachers can assist students to learn new mathematical content by giving instructions to 'trace over' the important elements of worked examples that already appear in mathematics textbooks or worksheets,” Ginns stated.
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"This simple, zero-cost teaching approach can enhance the effectiveness of mathematics instruction across multiple areas of the subject," Ginns explained.
Researchers are only now starting to explore if finger tracing's benefits could extend to more complex mathematical tasks that require higher levels of abstract thinking and problem solving.