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The Importance of Sensory-based Learning for Maths and Science.

Melodie de Jager When thinking about learning one tends to think of: school left & right shapes, colours, numbers reading, writing, spelling math, science facts comprehension, memory study skills tests and exams. If learning is difficult, you instinctively might wonder if there is a problem with the childs IQ. Alternatively, you might question the childs EQ and ask yourself, what is happening at home; what is happening in class; does she have friends; did he move home recently; did she loose a pet, friend or family member? These are good questions and might indicate the source creating a barrier to learning, but may not necessarily provide the full answer. In recent years, the important role of the body in the learning process has come to the fore and showed that not only IQ and EQ are role players in preparing a learner for learning ease, but that PQ also has a vital role to play. To illustrate and explain how the body can influence the quality of learning, one can look at the learning process by making use of The Learning Triangle. The Levels of Learning Triangle is an interpretation of the Triune Brain Theory (MacLean, 1990) and stands on PQ, as a small but pivotal point. IQ IQ: cognitive ability to learn

EQ EQ: emotional & social ability to learn

Cr a n iu m

Cerv ic al v e rt eb r a e

M an d i b le

Cl av i cl e

Sca p u la

Th o r a ci c v er t eb rae

Hu m e r us

Ri b

PQ: physical ability to learn

Lu mb ar v erte b r ae

Pel vi s Sac r um Uln a Co cc yx Rad i us

Carp al s M et aca r p al s

Ph al an g e s

Femu r

Fi b u la

Ti b ia

Tal us Cal ca n eu s Tarsal s,met at ar sal s & p h al an g e s

S K ELETO N , PO S TE RI O R V I EW

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Figure 1 Levels of Learning Triangle When there is a problem with learning, one traditionally looked for the cause on a higher level usually either the emotional (EQ) or the cognitive level (IQ). However, recent research showed that a substantial number of barriers to learning could be due to the childs physical development (PQ), or rather the lack of optimal physical development. All children GROW but not all children DEVELOP Physical development is at the root of all learning, with a critical developmental growth spurt between conception and 14 months in life; followed by an emotional growth spurt between 14 months and 4 years; and a cognitive growth spurt between 4 and 11 years. This does not mean that there is no emotional or cognitive development during the growth phase of physical development. In fact, the child is always in the process of developing as a whole being - physical, emotional, social and intellectual - but each phase has a time frame where development of that specific phase, is priority. The foundation of PQ learning consists of two systems that stabilize the Levels of The Learning Triangle. They are the sensory system and the motor system. IQ

EQ PQ
Cranium Cervical vertebrae Mandible Clavicle Scapula Thoracic vertebrae Humerus Rib Lumbar vertebrae Pelvis Sacrum Ulna Coccyx Radius

Carpals Metacarpals

Phalanges

Femur

Fibula

Tibia

Talus Calcaneus Tarsals,metatarsals & phalanges

S KELETON, POS TERIOR V IEW

Sensory System Figure 2

Motor System

Sensory-Motor System stabilises the Levels of Learning Page 2

Mind Moves Institute, Johannesburg. 2009

Learning, thought, creativity and intelligence are not processes of the brain alone, but of the whole body. Carla Hannaford

SENSORY SYSTEM PROVIDES THE BRAIN WITH INPUT Stimulated senses fill the brain with information and in so doing, wake up the brain to integrate and process the information. The brain prefers to receive new information on a concrete level; using as many senses as possible to form a clear perception of the information. Concrete learning means learning with real objects that you can touch, hear, see and smell, e.g. think of the difference in quality of learning when you simply tell learners about a lion, compared to visiting a game lodge where they can smell lions and see and hear them moving and roaring in nature. Concrete experiences like outings and experiments fill the brain with multi sensory images that elicit strong emotions. When information is emotionally charged it is glued to their memory and so broadens the memory bank and is readily available to be assessed. Up and until grade R is the prime time for multi-sensory learning and having a myriad of real life experiences. It is NOT the time for learning to read and write. Only after having had the advantage of years of concrete sensory experiences do learners fully benefit from looking at books, pictures, and TV or DVD images of experiences (semi-concrete level). Only then can information like that can evoke a memory of the multisensory concrete experiences they have had, and as such create a positive and easy learning experience. Learning on a semiconcrete level without first having experienced the objects in real life, makes it much harder. It is like comparing the experience of a delicious meal to looking at a picture of the same meal without ever having tasted it before it is just not the same. Most of the information received on a semi-concrete level would be abstract and quite incomprehensible to those learners without prior concrete experience.

Math and Science The abstract nature of the content of math and science may easily discourage learners from taking these subjects. Math and science deal with concepts that cannot be touched, e.g. left and right, shapes, colour, time, speed, velocity, etc. You cannot pass on a red, touch a specific speed, or pass on velocity. Because these concepts are not perceived concretely through the senses, learning on an Mind Moves Institute, Johannesburg. 2009 Page 3

abstract level can pose many challenges. An inspiring teacher with a gift to explain abstract concepts in terms of known and concrete experiences - like explaining fractions by using an apple, or time marking the changes in shadows during the day - is invaluable in the learning process. By making use of methods like these, the understanding of the abstract becomes real, concrete and a sensory experience and more accessible to learners to be saved to memory. ALL learning occurs via sensory experiences. It is a general misconception that only babies learn though concrete, sensory experiences. Everyone learns in this way - it is only the type and number of senses involved in learning that differs.

LEVEL 3. Abstract Lecture about Read about 2.Semi-Concrete Image of something real Pictures Computer CD / DVD 1.Concrete Real objects Outings Experiences . Table 1

SENSES INVOLVED Listen to lecture or read from a book Listen to a sound track or look at pictures, tables, graphs, DVDs

TYPE OF INTELLIGENCE IQ

EQ

Touch Smell & taste Listen See

PQ

Levels of sensory learning

Most high school pupils are expected to learn on an abstract level, either by listening or reading, with no database of concrete sensory experiences to refer to. Can you imagine how difficult it is for a child like this to make sense of these abstract concepts? Without it: they battle to read, write, and understand questions. Because of this, they fail math, science and accountancy. No wonder the real Grade 12 pass rate is so low in SA!

MOTOR SYSTEM ENABLES THE BRAIN TO ACT AND PRODUCE OUTPUT Once information has been received via the sensory system and the brain has processed the information, the muscle system is needed to be able to respond. The brain (as wonderful as it is) cannot respond, write, run, put up a hand, build a model, hold a pen, or complete a portfolio without muscles to do its bidding.

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Strong, coordinated and controlled muscles are needed to sit still, pay attention, and follow instructions, read and write, spell, put up a hand or wait to give an answer. LEARNING is a process. The sensory system fills the brain with INPUT; the brain processes the information to produce an OUTPUT in the form of a muscle response, via the motor system.

IQ

EQ PQ Sensory System Motor System

Figure 3

Flow of information through the Levels of Learning Triangle

LEARNING AND ASSESSMENT Learning, according to Honey and Mumford (1982:1), has occurred when: A person knows something that he did not know earlier and demonstrates a change in behaviour. A person can do something he was incapable of before. In both instances muscle OUTPUT acts as an indicator to provide evidence that information has moved successfully up and down through the physical, emotional and cognitive parts of the brain and that learning has occurred. Only muscle responses can be assessed. If the assessment shows that no learning took place, there might be a barrier in the learning process that needs to be addressed.

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BARRIERS TO LEARNING Barriers can occur anywhere during the learning process; preventing information from flowing from the senses to the brain and then to the muscles for appropriate behaviour, as evidence that learning has occurred. Underdeveloped senses as barrier A barrier can occur at the INPUT phase when a sense is faulty, for example low vision or impaired hearing, resulting in an overly sensitive sense of: smell (everything stinks) taste (picky eater) touch (tactile defensive). Such a learner may tend to lick his lips, suck his collar and/or suck his thumb. A child with impaired or underdeveloped hearing and sight tends to withdraw by: day dreaming, yawning, disengaging, complaining about a sore tummy and do not want to go to school. Such a barrier may present as ADD and hypoactivity. Overly acute senses An INPUT barrier may also occur when all the senses are on hyper alert. Whenever this happens, the senses feed too much information to the brain which creates a traffic jam (Ayres, 1994:51). At times like these the brain gets over stimulated or overfull and this creates chaos in the brain. The brain then desperately needs order to operate and process properly. PROCESSING cannot occur where there is chaos. To reduce the internal chaos (it may feel like ants under the skin, noise in the head or even a feeling of nausea; the brain screams: MAYDAY! Get rid of the chaos fight off new input or take to flight!). In extreme situations, the brain and body may even seem to FREEZE UP. No matter which part of the fight, flee or freeze response becomes active; NO LEARNING OCCURS. Learning occurs if a child is able to sit still, engage and pay attention, because only then can EQ and IQ be fully involved in the learning process. However, in a brain overwhelmed with all the chaos, none of the above is possible. The fight-orflight response that results from an overloaded brain, often presents itself as uncontrolled movement. This leads to a lack of concentration and this type of behaviour usually carries the hyperactive label of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). It can also give rise to labels such as lazy, demotivated or a bad attitude. Behaviour is a barometer for the effectiveness of the flow of information from the senses to the brain and then to the muscles. If there is a problem with the senses being underdeveloped or overly active, info only flows through PQ in through the senses and reflexively out through the muscles without any emotional (EQ) or

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cognitive (IQ) considerations. Such a learner would tend to be stimulus bound with high levels of impulsivity and might behave inappropriately.

IN CLOSING Being locked into a lower level of learning may start a negative learning spiral, resulting in: negativity towards school and learning, low self image, lack of confidence, low motivation, learned helplessness and failure. Real learning gets to the heart of what is meant to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we were never able to do. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the general process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning (Kelly, 2002:14). As teachers, we do not dare kill this hunger in learners with outdated and inappropriate teaching methods and strategies.

Teach what is real. Teach with all your heart.

Ayres, J. 1994. Sensory integration and the Child. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services. De Jager, M. 2006. Mind Moves removing barriers to learning. Johannesburg: The ConneXion Pty (Ltd). De Jager, M. 2004. Clever Play. Johannesburg: The ConneXion Pty (Ltd). Hannaford, C. 1995. Smart Moves. Virginia: Great ocean Publishers. Honey, P. & Mumford, A. 1982. The manual of learning styles. Berkshire: Peter Honey. Kelly, L (2002) What is learning... and why do museums need to do something about it? MacLean, P.D. 1990. The triune brain in evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions. New York: Plenum Press.

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