Engaging Learners by Focusing on Three Learning Styles ???

This weekend I had a chance to spend time with a former middle school principal. Like others she began talking about the importance of “learning styles”. Many of you may remember having someone talk to you about “learning style” whether you are an auditory, visual. kinesthetic, or tactile learner. However, this movement in K-12 education was never grounded in either sound logic or empirical support going beyond anecdotal evidence. Thus, not surprisingly, a Pashler, McDoniel, Rohrer, and Bjork concluded, after examining extensive research that is reviewed in http://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf that there is no real support for the “visual” vs. “auditory learner.” Nonetheless, all students learn better if we, as teachers, include all “modalities” of learning when we teach, if for no other reason than it engaged students. Visual illustration can help students in understanding concepts like the difference between discrete variables and continuous variables. We know, as an example, that coupling arm movements with verbal explanation aids students learning. However, though visual forms of teaching are often coupled with auditory forms of presenting information, professors are much less likely to use kinetic or tactile activities during teaching. Here I will describe an example of each type of activity and encourage those of you reading this to post activities you use involving kinesthetic and tactile activities. The two toughest, and in my opinion, most important concepts to teach well is sum of squares and sample distribution of the means. It will be these two topics I will provide examples for. Kinesthetic activity for understanding the concept for sum of squares: I start by talking to students about the concept of variability, that is how spread out the data are. I have students who live on campus stand up, so we can see the differences between students living on and off campus (typically the latter are commuter students), then the standing students pair up with someone sitting. They are to get a measure, in miles of how “spread out they are” in pairs. We take that number and find the average “spread outedness.” Then we do it again, this time people who live off campus stand representing the county in which they live. They pair up with someone for the same county and all on-campus students pair with each other. Again, they obtain their distance from each other in miles and we find the average “spread outedness”. Always, for my students, this number is smaller, so I conclude they live close together now. The students laugh, and we discuss how to better do this…the students conclude we need a stable location (campus). From this, I begin to explain what the sum of squares is, and how it works. By having them physically move and pair up (kinesthetic) they are better able to comprehend the concept of the sum of squares, that is that the individual observation is “paired up with” the “centralized” mean. Of course, the Sum of Squares becomes the basis of the variance, sd, Z test, t test, correlation. The act of moving in this one activity transfers conceptual understanding for all that follow. An example tactile activity is helping students to understand sampling distribution of the means and the concept of sample error. Most of us are already doing an activity like this one, with chips or pieces of paper. You make a “population” and have students draw a sample to try to figure out the population. Such activities really help students in understanding the sampling distribution of the mean and sampling error. In my class, I have a bit of a “twist.” I use plain M&M’s, as we know the proportion of red, blue, and other color M&M’s. Thus, I assign a value to each M&M, everyone in the class gets a sample of size 20, and they find the individual sample means. We then find the mean of the means for the entire class, using excel to graph those means and the students get a real sense, through this tactile activity, of what is sampling error and what is the sampling distribution of the means. So, is there any support for some students learning better with one style over another? No. Yet, there is still good reason to look at the four “learn styles” (verbal, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile) to see how you can better address certain concepts by not simply relying upon the sample lecture.


1 Comment

Filed under Engaging students, Maximizing Cognitive Development, Pedagogy

One response to “Engaging Learners by Focusing on Three Learning Styles ???

  1. Hal Kiess

    There are several excellent sources for classroom demonstrations of statistical concepts. The Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) publishes the journal Teaching of Psychology (http://teachpsych.org/top/index.php). Many of the issues include demonstrations of statistical or methodological concepts. The Journal of Statistics Education (http://www.amstat.org/publications/jse/) also presents a variety of exercises and demonstrations in each issue.

    In addition, in the Instructor’s Manual for Statistical Concepts for the Behavioral Sciences (4th ed.), Bonnie and I provide a discussion of various demonstrations of statistical concepts and a list of references for additional demonstrations.

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