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Exploiting the best sensory modality for learning arithmetic and geometrical concepts based on multisensory interactive Information and Communication Technologies and serious games

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Children use their bodies to enhance their maths skills

Elementary school children, both healthy and visually impaired, are improving their arithmetic and geometry skills through music and motion. EU-funded scientists plan to make scientifically tested ‘serious games’ available to schools.

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Most teachers still rely heavily on visual interactions to teach students new concepts while marginalising other sensory modalities. Even among the educational systems increasingly utilising multisensory modalities, there is a lack of evidence-based methodology founded in psychophysics and pedagogical experiments. An EU-funded consortium of 9 partners from 5 countries set out to elucidate the sensory modalities most suitable for teaching concepts of space and time to healthy and visually impaired children ranging from age 6 to 10. Drawing on expertise in neuroscience, engineering, and pedagogy, the weDRAW project developed and validated three ‘serious games.’ They employed music and drawing to teach arithmetic and geometrical concepts to primary school children, both healthy and visually impaired. Based on science, informed by experience Cognitive neuroscience has demonstrated that specific sensory systems (e.g. visual, audio, touch) can have specific roles in the learning of certain concepts during development. In addition, there is a crucial link between arithmetic and geometrical concepts and the arts. For example, numbers and fractions are important to tempo and rhythm, and geometrical shapes are utilised in drawing and painting. To best identify needs, weDRAW surveyed over 200 maths teachers in Ireland, Italy, and the United Kingdom. According to project coordinator Monica Gori, “…it was surprising for us to see that more than 75 % of teachers agreed on the same concepts as the most difficult for children and the most appropriated for technological intervention.” Feedback from teachers during the iterative design, development, and testing process supported weDRAW scientists in the creation of software libraries for real-time control using multi-modal sensory feedback for analysis of nonverbal motoric and affective behaviour. The software was integrated into three ‘serious games’ validated via psychophysical and pedagogical metrics developed by weDRAW scientists to evaluate motor, arithmetic, and geometrical skills. Non-visual sensory processing in healthy and visually impaired children ‘RobotAngle&Fractions’ teaches the concept of angles and their operations as well as fractions. It was shown to facilitate age-dependent improvements in numerosity and geometry. ‘Cartesian Garden’ explores the cartesian plane. Playing the game improved younger children's spatial representation of negative and positive numbers with age-specific improvements in geometry. Gori adds, ”It was incredible for me to see blind children using a 3D virtual game developed by partner Learn TPM Limited and seeing low vision children interacting in a virtual Cartesian plane.” ‘Spaceshape’ is dedicated to 2D and 3D objects and their rotation in a virtual area. Its use improved understanding of fractions and mental transformations from 2D to 3D. Overall, Gori explains, “In weDRAW, we showed that children have preferential sensory channels to learn specific properties (e.g. audition for time and fractions and body movements associated with audio for angle understanding) and that the visual signal is not always the more powerful channel.” Some serious games will be available for schools. The ‘Cartesian Garden’ will be commercialised by the SME Ignition Factory, while a weDraw app including the ‘RobotAngle&Fractions’ game will be distributed for free in Italy by the school-specialised publishing house De Agostini Editore (DeA) SPA. With 18 000 teachers currently in the DeA network, weDraw will soon be inspiring thousands of young learners.

Keywords

weDRAW, children, visual, sensory, fractions, serious games, Cartesian, geometrical, arithmetic, visually impaired, geometry, drawing, neuroscience

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