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Background and Philosophy

What Is A Kinesthetic Learning Activity?

A Kinesthetic Learning Activity (KLA) is any activity that physically engages students in the learning process. Generally, these are short (~20 minutes or less), classroom-based activities. Although a KLA must involve students experiencing a physical sensation of participation, not every KLA needs to directly involve every student in the class (as in, e.g., the Human Binary Tree activity). Students can also participate vicariously if they sympathize strongly with the activity and the actor (as in, e.g., the Parameterized Student Sort activity).

KLA Background And Philosophy

Kinesthetic Learning Activities are classroom activities that physically engage students in the learning process. These exercises fill an important niche in CS education — energizing students, employing underutilized learning styles, and achieving especially challenging learning goals.

KLAs engage students by putting them in motion and sometimes even requiring real exertion. The novelty and energy of a KLA helps bring students' attention back to the class. Students' attention flags quickly in lecture classes (e.g., after only 15 minutes in some studies [Stuart and Rutherford]); so, KLAs can be valuable learning tools for simply reengaging students. Furthermore, KLAs directly address the physical symptoms of mental inattention found in lecture situations, including reduced heart rate [Bligh] and lowered skin conductivity [Picard and Scheirer].

KLAs also employ underutilized learning styles. Kinesthetic activities tap into what Piaget termed "sensorimotor learning," in which physical activity transforms into representative mental symbols [Hergenhahn and Olson]. Although in Piaget's model this learning mechanism recedes in importance after the first few years of life, it undoubtedly continues to operate at least in physical skill learning (e.g., sports or dance). Other learning frameworks, such as Fleming and Bonwell's "VARK" learning styles model [Fleming], also recognize the central role of physical learning. Felder and Silverman elide kinesthetic learning from the visual/auditory axis of their Index of Learning Styles not because it is unimportant but because they did not see how this key learning style dimension could be integrated into engineering education [Felder and Silverman]. KLAs can bring this mode of learning to computer science. Finally, KLAs can be incredibly refreshing (and often low prep!) changes in teaching style for instructors.

Finally, KLAs can help address two particularly challenging learning goals: changing the learning "climate" in the classroom and changing students' beliefs (as opposed to their knowledge or skills). The physical, interactive, social, and inclusive nature of many KLAs can improve the learning climate in the classroom. As Barker et al. put it, "The social aspect of the learning environment ... is influenced by ... beliefs about appropriate class activities, relationships and roles, authority, trust, the personalities and behaviors of individuals, and typical patterns of communication" [Barker, Garvin-Doxas, and Jackson]. A KLA can redefine students' (and instructors') perspectives on all of these issues by creating new patterns of behavior and establishing new social relationships. The Start of Class Shout [Wolfman] is a good example of a KLA directed explicitly at changing the learning climate of a class, but many KLAs directed at discipline-specific goals also encourage positive new social connections among students. KLAs are also excellent techniques to change students' beliefs (as opposed to "only" changing knowledge and skills). KLAs can address these changes in beliefs by involving students in active, physical, and social exploration of concepts and by tying new conceptual frameworks to students' existing knowledge through connections to their confident, existing knowledge about the physical world and human-human interactions.

More Information

For more information, see our KLA Background Notes.

KLA References

[Barker, Garvin-Doxas, and Jackson] Barker, L.J., Garvin-Doxas, K., and Jackson, M. "Defensive Climate in the Computer Science Classroom." In Proc. of SIGCSE 2002.

[Bligh] Bligh, D. What’s the use of lectures? Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA, 2000.

[Felder and Silverman] Felder, R., and Silverman, L. Learning and Teaching Styles In Engineering Education. Engr. Ed. 78, 7 (1988), pp. 674–681.

[Fleming] Fleming, Neil. "VARK -- A Guide to Learning Styles." Last accessed February 25, 2005.

[Hergenhahn and Olson] Hergenhahn, B., and Olson, M. An introduction to theories of learning. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1997.

[Picard and Scheirer] Picard, R. W., and Scheirer, J. "The Galvactivator: A Glove that Senses and Communicates Skin Conductivity." Proc. of HCI Int'l, August 2001.

[Stuart and Rutherford] Stuart, J., and Rutherford, R. J. "Medical Student Concentration During Lectures." The Lancet, September 2, 1978, pp. 514–516.

[Wolfman] Wolfman, S. "Making lemonade: Exploring the bright side of large lecture courses." In Proc. of SIGCSE 2002.

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