Current Research Projects

Learning Words through our Hands

This series of projects explores how 4- and 5-year-old children learn new verbs. We know that verb learning is difficult for young children, because they think the object with which a verb is learned is crucial to the meaning of the verb, rather than focusing on the movement. We ask whether gesture can help children learn verbs more flexibly, and compare this to how they learn through action. We also ask why gesture and action guide learning in different ways, using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and eye tracking.

This work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, and conducted in collaboration with Dr. Susan Goldin-Meadow at the University of Chicago and Dr. Karin James at Indiana University.

Harnessing Gesture and Action to Improve Pre-Algebra Instruction

We are investigating how gesture and action instruction can be used to facilitate children's understanding of mathematical equivalence. Mastering this concept - that two sides of an equation must equal each other - is a predictor of future academic success. We ask how children learn, generalize, and retain information differently if it is learned through gesture vs. action, how gesture and action interact with spoken instruction, how these movement types may be combined to optimize children's learning, and the neural mechanisms underlying these effects. The overarching goal of this project is to develop targeted, research-based education techniques.

This work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, and conducted in collaboration with Dr. Susan Goldin-Meadow at the University of Chicago.

Understanding What Makes a Gesture Meaningful

We have the ability to understand certain hand movement as 'gesture' - that is, as representational of something other than themselves, but how do we recognize some movement as gesture? Through this series of projects, we investigate the contexts and characteristics that make movement meaningful. We also ask how the ability to see meaning in movement develops. The ultimate goal of these projects is to understand how interpreting meaning in movement may affect our ability to learn from movement.

Using Gesture and Action to Help Children Think about Relations

Relational reasoning is the ability to identify underlying schematic structures (i.e. patterns) that are shared between experiences or contexts. We know that having good relational reasoning skills can support academic achievement. In this line of projects, we explore how action and gesture instruction may help 3- to 5-year-old children develop their relational reasoning skills, using analogy problems. We also use eye tracking to understand how children focus their visual attention while learning through action or gesture, and how this influences the way they focus on analogies.