Learning with the Body LO23761

From: John Gunkler (jgunkler@sprintmail.com)
Date: 01/13/00

Replying to "Organisational Learning & Knowledge Management LO23685 "

Dori Digenti writes about an example of "learning with the body." I'd
suggest anyone interested in this start by going back to Jean Piaget's
developmental psychology. An early stage of learning is what he called
"concrete operational" learning. In that stage of development a child
learns primarily by physically manipulating objects.

What I've discovered, in my own learning (e.g., highly abstract
mathematical concepts) and in tutoring others, is that when an adult faces
the task of learning something quite new we can benefit from beginning
with concrete operations -- learning with the body. One example: In my
undergraduate days I took a mathematics course in "group theory."
Mathematical "groups" are simpler objects than what most of us are
familiar with in our school math ("algebras") in that (for one thing) they
have only one defined operation (where algebras have two, such as
addition/subtraction and multiplication/division.) We were intended to
learn how to "manipulate" groups in highly abstract, formal (symbolic)
ways -- using familiar tools of math such as letters of the alphabet, the
+ symbol (or some other symbol) for the defined operation, set theory
notation, etc. But this professor was wiser than most. He began by
handing out to each of us a large paper cube. We wrote distinctive marks
on each of its six sides (so we could tell them apart), and those marks
became the members of the set upon which a "group" was defined. He then
showed us how certain kinds of physical rotations of the cube followed the
rules of group theory. That is, that a cube with certain rotations (as
the "operation") was a mathematical group. We "played" with these cubes
for an entire class period before launching into formal, symbolic
learning. And I found myself relying, again and again, throughout my
learning on "intuition" that came from physically manipulating that cube.

I try to do something like this whenever I'm faced with new fields of
learning -- I try to find a way to "get physical" with the concepts before
allowing myself to indulge in flights of abstract fancy. It really helps!

John W. Gunkler


"John Gunkler" <jgunkler@sprintmail.com>

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