30 Surprising (And Controversial) Ways Students Learn

Have you checked your assumptions about student learning at the door? People in general, hold onto beliefs that are shaped by early experiences, the media, and faulty influences. The following list is a compilation of research that may surprise you. Video games, ebooks, playtime, and music are all a part of an educator’s repertoire. Read on, and be prepared to put your traditional beliefs aside as science points to innovative methods that indicate future success.

1. Playing scary and violent video games help children master their fears in real life.
Until recently, studies done with regards to children and video games usually centered on the negative impacts and consequences of prolonged use. But a study done by Cheryl K. Olson that appeared in the Review of General Psychology suggests that there are a lot of psychological benefits to video games. She recognized several social motivations for playing video games including competition, a reason to hang out and casually converse with friends, and teaching peers how to play a game. The psychological motivations for video games are even more profound. In boys who struggle with stress, fear, and anger- negative emotions that can have violent consequences- video games acted as a safe alternative for the release of pent up emotion. There were other findings as well, comprising the fun of “unreality”- experimenting with a world where natural laws are suspended- plus the fun of challenge, mastery, and playing with different identities. These findings reveal that video games can be an alternate way to release negative emotion, and help children alleviate their innate desire for risk and adventure.

2. Video games can lessen disruptive behaviors and enhance positive development in ADHD children
The Australian Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology published a study about the use of video games to help children with ADHD. The sample of children was small, so more research is needed. But the results of this study indicated that the video game (designed to teach kids how to control their heart rate and breathing) had a significant impact on behavior. This finding flies in the face of popular remarks such as, “Video games make my child hyper,” and “ADHD is a disease that inflicts this generation because of video games.” These beliefs are not backed by scientific study, and in some cases, it is these very biases that slow down inquisitive minds that might dare to think otherwise.

there isn’t much negative to say about chess. There is no question that scientific curriculum needs to be enhanced in some way. Of course. use precise thinking. In fact. However. . It is an inexpensive game.that they are learning the crucial necessary skills.3. as well as recognizing difficult and complex patterns. using other mediums like technology to master scientific principles can give students more time to reflect on important concepts. without wasting time and resources on a poorly developed lab. concentrate. but typical lab work may no longer be the way to go. compiled a series of papers and research that highlights the benefits of chess. but it is unwise to assume that simply because a class has a hand’s on experiment. a great opportunity for socialization among many different age groups and levels. A lot of labs are designed so that students follow a “recipe” or list of directions that don’t exercise critical thinking skills. Chess makes kids smart Patrick S. active both inductive and deductive reasoning. Honestly. 4. A lot of labs are designed so that students follow a “recipe” or list of directions that don’t exercise critical thinking skills. an in-depth review by Justin Dillon from King’s College in London. science curriculums often have practical work or labs that teach the science concepts learned in the textbook. McDonald. more research is needed. It forces students to slow down. found that practical work isn’t always as effective as it may appear on the surface. Practical work in science provides children little or no learning at all In an attempt to enrich learning. especially as it relates to education. a great lover of chess and the Youth Coordinator for the Ontario Chess Association.

whether it is because they have an opportunity to engage their whole bodies in the learning process. helped some young students overcome their fears. The process of growing something from seed to fruit helps teach children responsibility and managing a living organism. . Thousands of schools have participated and some of the findings point to gardening as a crucial learning tool for children. 5. Playing with blocks increases neuron count in children Schools are endangering a student’s creative intelligence when they replace all scheduled playtime with academic study. math. shapes. These are just some of the few findings. Kids who garden show a better ability to concentrate. children will use some of that time learning about mathematical and spatial principles. colors. It is a game that does not discriminate. it helps children to understand that “losing” the game is as valuable as winning. researchers note that something as simple as toy blocks can have incredible impacts on a young student’s mind. and even English. Kids who garden show a better ability to concentrate. one of the simplest and longstanding toys. and physics. An English teacher found her student’s creativity in poetry expanded after working in the garden. heart. teach geometry. patterns. Even high-tech industries like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory take into consideration a person’s background of play when they are hiring new scientists. As the trend moves more towards structuring a curriculum that teaches to a standardized test. to nutrition.Teachers who are in charge of children with mental and physical disabilities can also benefit from chess. In the Community Playthings article about the wisdom of play. 6. Gardening touches on so many different school subjects. from the science of photosynthesis. • • • • • Gardening helped use up surplus energy in active kids. psychologists who study play are screaming that this is the wrong move. or simply because learning in the outdoors is good for the mind. Gardening improves children’s desire to learn and boosts their confidence The Royal Horticulture Society in the UK has started a campaign to bring gardening back into the school systems. and no matter what level you learn to play. Blocks. Getting in touch with the dirt and bugs. Even with 15 minutes of free play. and body. Some students learned valuable math skills as they sold their produce to the town for a profit.

but stunts a child’s natural curiosity to discover how the world works. Though much of modern education focuses primarily on visual sight for learning. 8. or to allow them to explore the object without direct instruction? The research outlined in Alison Gopnik’s article on Slate (dot) com gives us some startling facts. the more important music becomes. 9. they learn to appreciate the pacing of words and how to speak more clearly. Green spaces or natural backyards elevate children’s learning through discovery . as well as several different other mechanisms that weren’t immediately obvious. will be the most innovative and original thinkers as adults. Songs that are taught for the purposes of remembering routines (like cleaning up or going to bed) activate the part of the memory that is used when memorizing sight words and other rote principles. The younger the child.to teach a child how to use an object. when children learn nursery rhymes that are set to a steady beat. play music. the children who had a teacher instructing them on how the toy worked did not explore it further than the directions given by the adult. Psychologists are drawing the conclusion that early academic learning structured around directive teaching not only inhibits creativity. Music must continue to be a part of a young child’s learning environment. the auditory processes are critically important for language acquisition. 7. etc.This is because research shows that children who have ample opportunity to play and manipulate the environment creatively. Music and movement augment children’s language capabilities during the preschool years Music has a calming effect on children and adults alike. Research shows that children who engage in music from a young age have a more finely tuned ability to speak and communicate. Children who engage in music from a young age have a more finely tuned ability to speak and communicate For example.. Teaching kids at a very early age is counterproductive to their learning What is more beneficial. However. When children in a controlled study were given a toy that did multiple things like squeaking. the students who were given the toy with no specific instructions discovered the way it worked.

An engaged child is one who is more likely to absorb information. Youth. and make real-life associations with the knowledge. the greater the invitation for discovery through curiosity. In Beyond the Journal. several activities or processes need to be present. and Environments noted that students who were given access to green woodlands. but the teachers also incorporated the outdoor area into their formalized curriculum. and other natural habitats had an increase in social cooperation and creativity. Drama and comedy in the classroom encourage children to listen and participate Teachers are constantly thinking about new and innovative ways to encourage active participation with their students. In order to engage students. as opposed to the children who were given an asphalt yard with a jungle gym. The more natural and open the environment. 10. Not only did the student’s enjoy the environment more. It became a place to learn about ecosystems. Not only is it critical for children to have time to play outside. authors and educators Judy R. gardening. Jablon and Michael Wilkinson outline the following: • • • Some prior understanding or knowledge of the material An environment that fosters questions and investigation The ability to work in a group or collaborative setting . science. and preserving the Earth. Research documented in Colorado University’s Journal of Children.How important is it for children to play and interact with the great outdoors? Does it really make a difference in the educational process? The research says yes. but the type of outdoor environment is important as well. ponds. retain it.

and success. and a level of independence and control. It was essentially. drama. it is a vibrancy of emotion that shows a student’s entire mind and feelings are engaged in the activity. students must use prior knowledge. research shows that they are more apt to remember the place or location.• • • Offering multiple choices so students can be self-directed Independent thinking Games. Just like tears or anger. In order to develop such a game. learning in action. safety. reading. In essence. of Kansas State University reports that children have four major needs while in their learning environment. it helps foster a sense of control. Interest areas in the classroom promote a child’s autonomy and choice making When children catalog an experience in their minds. science. When the students are paired in groups and given the chance to move from area to area. In modern times. One way to accomplish this is through interest areas. and take control of their learning through trial and error. This acute sensitivity to detail is one of the main reasons that architects and educators should pay careful attention to the types of spaces they are designing for classrooms. children learned necessary survival skills by mimicking their elders. the ability to engage all five senses. etc. the ability to move around the space. research outlined in the Lookstein Online Journal indicates that children show cognitive growth when they are given the task of creating their own video game. Interest areas are different sections in the classroom that focus on a certain skillset or study. academics are often taught rather than “shown”removing this type of opportunity from the educational process. but laughter is a great indicator of engagement. Children must use logic. and humor It might not come as a surprise. Jaclynn Shaw. According to the Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences. and generate new ideas and solutions in order to complete the game. 12. create links between scenes. However. social collaboration. . it is another way to create and active learning environment similar to ancient history. art. 11. than the person or thing. the need to feel a sense of confidence. survival skills. Children who construct their own video games experience increased cognitive and social growth In a primitive society.

Ph. parents are not able to provide their children with the optimal learning environment. artificial lighting. A child growing up in a financially secure home may be offered an enriching environment if the mother and/or father have the resources to invest in early education initiatives at home. Teachers can also add curtains. These changes can make a big difference in the learning potential of a student suffering from Autism. 14.They get to make choices. Economically disadvantaged children reap long-term benefits from preschool There is no doubt that a well thought out preschool education program can provide long-term benefits for any young child. is affected by classroom acoustics. However. and rugs to further muffle noise. Unfortunately. W. Engaging children in planning and reflection enhance their predictive and analytic capabilities . there is a higher likelihood that those experiences will shape the child’s future for years to come. Steven Barnett. and the academic and creative needs of an impressionable young child go to the bottom of the pile. adding carpet on the floors and even on the walls will muffle the noise and echo of an empty concrete room. so classrooms need to eliminate any unnecessary distractions. When there are positive influences during this time. Another crucial necessity is natural light. floor pillows. opt for large windows and skylights that allow sunlight to pour in. Instead. more so than the average child. Students do better when their work areas are tucked in a nook with walls and other makeshift boundaries sectioning off their space. Learning. Secondly. this is not the case with the lower class. In impoverished areas. move in the classroom. in the National Institute for Early Education Research suggests that it is the disadvantaged populations that benefit the most. The brain of a young child is incredibly impressionable from ages 0-6. These skills build confidence in young students. 13. and explore independently. Instead. and the reason why preschool is so important. it takes a child’s full concentration to simply interact with another student or teacher. for children with ASD.. Fluorescent lighting is difficult on the eyes and can be render a child with ASD completely ineffective. The Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences studied different areas of the classroom and found ways to reduce excess stimulation for these children. and windows Children with autism and related disorders are greatly impacted by their environment. 15. Putting a desk against a wall with a bookshelf on either side can minimize distractions. adults struggle to find work and make ends meet. In many cases.D.

props. they naturally use scientific processes to discover the world around them. The classroom must allow room for these play-based scenarios. and sequences necessary to really engage the senses. actions. This means that the teacher is now in the primary role of teaching children how to play. themes. Mature make-believe play provides the most beneficial context for children’s development Do you remember playing “store” or “restaurant” when you were a child? These imaginative scenarios. when children are given a rich environment to explore. they make the argument that play is an ever-evolving skill that children must be guided through. it forces them to evaluate what behaviors and actions are necessary to complete a task. educators are seeing the importance of teaching the children how to plan. Whereas young kids used to play in multi-level age groups (perhaps in a neighborhood or in a family with a lot of children) having older peers in which to mimic and follow. they noted that the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation found that students who were given a chance to learn how to plan out their activities. is one of the most crucial avenues for development. and the child’s innate creativity. When a child is brought into the process of planning and reflection. performed better in language and other skills. In a journal put out by the NAEYC. 17. Sessions that are only 10-15 minutes do not give a child the opportunity to play out the scenarios. now students are segregated according to age. . As more and more research is done on the impact of early education on children. they then must analyze why it didn’t and what must be done to get back on track. But more and more. This important skill is not only useful in everyday life. as they are one of the building blocks of learning. 16. in which children take on roles. There also must be ample time for play. and collaborate with other children. you might suppose that the teacher plans the lesson and then the children carry it out. It is within this context that children build the preliminary skills for advanced academic understanding. the results continue to point to a surprising conclusion. When the plan does not work. In an article written by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. it seems that it enhances a child’s capabilities as well.When you think of a classroom curriculum in action. Children are not blank slates on which adults imprint knowledge Children’s brains are far more powerful and intuitive than we ever imagined. the mind.

Alison Gopnik. they relied on their experience. A child’s attention span is also longer. 19. This has profound implications for early education teachers. researchers took a closer look at how teacher’s beliefs regarding early education influence the classroom environment. When teachers have confidence in a child’s ability to learn independently. The educators also recognized that when children are allowed to learn through play. even an influential one. Adults are not the “givers” of information. However. the younger children were more influenced by a teacher’s comments regarding the discriminating group than their actual experience. to the process. even when it contradicts their own personal experience. more structure. By 5th grade. professor at the University of California. Play-based learning shifts the focus of learning from the outcome or goal. . the child/teacher relationship is stronger. With the older group of children. as well as parents and caregivers. this only lasts for a short time during development. there is far less time spent on behavior management. When teachers have confidence in a child’s ability to learn independently. Play-based learning increases children’s attention span In this study done by the Australian Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology. but rather facilitators that allow children to use their natural curiosity to discover the world. most kids will trust their peers or their own experience over an adult. and more early academic intervention is not necessarily beneficial. 18. Young children learn about prejudice by instruction. Delivering a positive message about ethnicity and social equality is best communicated in younger ages in order to make a lasting impact. When several different age groups of children were put into differing groups (with one group discriminating against the other). and not the teacher’s opinion. It would seem that one of the best predictors of future academic success is built on this foundation. the child/teacher relationship is stronger. Teachers are then able to take a more “facilitative” role and observe the student actively learning. Young children will believe adults. reported this in her research that was outlined in the September issues EdWeek’s blog. older children by experience Science Daily released an article last March that gives educators insight into how children form opinions about discrimination and prejudice. The push for more academics. A group of teachers partook in the study and here were some of the findings.

look. and thus the mathematical rule. and rhyming melodies are far easier to remember than a list of facts. taste. The steady rhythm. but another learning experience. This boost of confidence activates the already-present learning mechanisms available in the brain. 21. Classical music has been shown to help concentration. Children learn more when they initiate an activity and are actively engaged in it Curiosity is the birthplace of learning. Failure no longer becomes a negative thing. Reinforcing children’s capabilities as confident explorers build children’s resilience and confidence One of the most impactful moments for a child is when they understand that a caregiver or teacher believes in his/her ability to learn. and helps propel them forward to discover new things in the world. and the cadence and rhyming of words make the song easier to remember. Rapping helps children learn the concept of place value in math The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory put out a classroom math lesson that included a rap song! It is not all that surprising that rap music helps with mathematical concepts. The Center for Development and Learning gives caregivers helpful advice about how to maximize a child’s early experiences. The concept is written into the lyrics and the children can learn the song. as well as offering reflection after the experience. providing opportunities for children to collaborate in groups. The Open University’s research proves that an adult’s confidence in a child also helps motivate them when experiments fail. One of the key points centers on this foundation of curiosity. If you follow a two-year-old around for even a couple of hours. Teachers can do this by standing back.20. following his innate curiosity about how things work. . When a parent or teacher can harness the power of that curiosity. 22. it is like riding a wave that already has momentum. supporting the child’s natural curiosity and offering helpful ways to explore. and sound. where a teacher doles out knowledge and asks the student to learn the information. feel. Music is a proven method to aid learning. the caregiver must remain in the background. It activates the auditory system. you will watch as he explores the world organically. To give a child a chance to initiate learning. so the child can see what worked and what didn’t. This is different from the traditional model of instruction. allowing the child to use another one of their five senses to learn.

The NYU Child Student Center writes about parents as the key ingredient to a successful school career. it doesn’t mean that all learning is pushed to the school.The Council for Exceptional Children incorporated the idea of self-talk in their article about student learning. This concept also works with writing. Parents can help their children with homework. the ear is better able to pick up on awkward phrasing than simply using the eyes. If a child reads their report or paragraph out loud. and can possibly catch minute details that the eyes keep missing when the child looks over the problem again and again. this minimizes emotional disturbances and other negative situations that can impair the educational process. reading. self-talk can help with reasoning and logic. Parents are a crucial component to their child’s success. When parents are active in their child’s education. hearing. 24. Children who are encouraged to talk to themselves aloud have increased probability of learning Have you ever stood in front of a mirror and rehearsed a presentation or important conversation you were about to have? Science proves this is a helpful method of learning and selfanalysis. as well as be informed of school behavior problems or social situations that need attending. extra enrichment activities. Children behave better when parents are involved in their education at home and at school When a parent sends a child on the bus to school. Learning continues even after school is done. Speaking a loud activates another of the five senses. . If a student is working on a math problem or difficult concept.23.

Willis. There was more energy for math. but it also gives a feeling of security and contentment. Game playing can develop a positive attitude towards mathematics for children Mathematics can easily become a tedious and dry subject.25. Books especially. and video were able to find and recite more information than the children who used a traditional printed text. Laughter not only increases a child’s capacity to remember the humor. full of repetitive problems. are going through a digital overhaul. mind. both PhD authors. 27. and ultimately more success. music. you can probably easily remember what triggered it. but it also gives a feeling of security and contentment. more motivation. or silly phrases to start a lesson. as more and more texts are available online and in ebook format. narration. But when teachers add games to the curriculum. and heart. According to Leicha Bragg’s research from Deakin University. It is important that teachers use funny songs. she noted that game playing helped change children’s perspective on the subject of math. speakers. In a Scroll Essay called The Effects of Electronic Books Designed for Children in Education. Children who use electronic books show more cooperation and retain more information As technology speeds ahead. and exams. and curriculum specialists. Laughter is evidence of an engaged body. They note that laughter not only increases a child’s capacity to remember the humor. Pam Schiller and Clarissa A. The use of the ebook also enhanced group cooperation and gave the students more opportunity to interact. More kids were able to articulate positive emotions surrounding math. formulas. the learning environment and classroom is rapidly changing. as well as an increase in confidence about different concepts. . increasing the likelihood that you are able to recall what triggered the positive emotion. games. 26. It seemed that playing math games helped to alleviate the tediousness of repetitive problem solving. Children who participate in laughing activities experience increase in memory retention Do you remember the last time you had a good belly laugh? If you are fortunate enough to have laughter as part of your everyday life. students who used e-books with sound effects. This positive beginning sets up the lesson for success. put out an article that highlights this fact. student’s attitudes about math change dramatically.

but two stand out as most important. The Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences put out an article on gender differences that converged on the same bottom line. 29. Boys tend to be more assertive in their interactions and games. Although there is benefit to exposing both boys and girls to a wide variety of toys. When a child doesn’t make these connections. and the association of sounds that go along with them. while encouraging them to try out methods that they may not naturally be comfortable with. According to Scholastic Research and Results. teen. there are a lot of pre-reading skills that are necessary for literacy. Phonemic awareness and alphabet recognition increase children’s chances of reading achievement As soon as a child is two years old. and girls are drawn more to dramatic play. and most people can identify toys that are marketed towards girls versus boys. numbers. 28. they can begin to recognize letters.In essence. Even though reading is a visual skill. Though this is the norm. Getting in rhythms helps children grasp fractions . 30. activating the ear to recognize the different sounds of each letter is the foundation on which reading is built. the e-book was more conducive to group activity than individual private reading. and adult. as well as alphabet recognition. These pre-reading skills are an early indicator of a child’s ability to read and enjoy literature as a child. Boys engage more in exploratory play while girls engage more in dramatic play Browse the aisle of a toy store. a lifetime of literary frustration is sure to result. phonemic awareness (understanding the sound a letter makes). whereas girls are more intuitive and relational as they play. research still notes that boys are drawn more to exploration. Instructors should acknowledge these differences. it is important to note that teachers shouldn’t automatically assume that each gender isn’t capable of playing in the other way. make room for each gender to play as they are naturally wired.

educators have noticed that clapping. But there seems to be a connection between music and fractions that is proving to be beneficial. So get out your drums and your hands. and students have a visual way to begin placing fractions in context. 31. Australia’s first female Nobel prize winner. In fact. notations. Elizabeth Blackburn. and begin clapping your way to a better understanding of fractions. said.Fractions aren’t the easiest concept for a child to learn. “I think you need time to daydream. In music theory. etc. But recent research found the opposite is true. to let your imagination take you where it can … Just do that some of the time. Among its many benefits. daydreaming has been associated with longer attention span. successful scientists who’ve really advanced things. drumming out a beat. and chanting help students understand the concept of fractions. notes are identified by halves. because I’ve noticed [that] among the creative. The results show that students who use music and rhythm to teach fractions score notably higher on math exams that those that don’t. However. increased resolve. Perhaps this explains why some of the brightest minds in the world are born daydreamers – Einstein being a prime example. creativity and even higher IQ. Daydreaming boosts brains [Open Colleges' Addition] Daydreaming is often seen as wasting time and sometimes a lack of the ability to focus. In an article from the SF State News. it is a foundational mathematical principle that is necessary for future advanced mathematics.” . eighths. sixteenths. that was a part of their life.

com/2012/12/30-surprising-and-controversial-ways-students-learn/ .This is a cross-post from our content partners at the Open Colleges Newsroom http://edudemic.