For the many parents who are concerned that kids are spending increasingly ridiculous amounts of time in front of a screen (including during school hours), there is a silver lining on the horizon: the emerging field of embodied cognition and how it can be applied in educational technology. Embodied cognition poses the idea that our bodies play an influential part on the mind and are integral to the learning process. Educational technology (i.e. the technology used to aid learning) has become a larger part of the classroom than ever, and now there are numerous studies to support the idea that these types of programs should be interactive and kinesthetic rather than passive. Moving our bodies helps us better understand and relate to concepts including those that are more abstract or theoretical in nature. Embodied cognition makes sense to most parents since we spend many hours storytelling through playing pretend and helping kids with hands-on activities such as understanding how to buckle their seat belt or tie their shoes; we have seen how using their bodies to learn songs and words (even baby signs) generally helps kids to remember. Schools (for a variety of logistical as well as philosophical reasons) have often perpetuated the standard “look and listen,” lecture-based model for decades, and embodied cognition represents a welcome departure from this pedagogy.
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Recent experiments in this field have shown that incorporating movement into screen/technology-based learning activities improves comprehension. For example, using a joy stick to move virtual gears to demonstrate the concept of force or having children manipulate images of toys on a computer screen after reading a written text aids in retention as well as related problem-solving applications. Embodied cognition represents a welcome departure from the old-school, lecture-based lessons and provides further support for getting kids moving. It’s easy for anyone’s eyes to glaze over after watching a screen for too long, so educators and educational tech developers can explore and apply this research to keep our kids learning and moving. Despite some of the obstacles faced with this type of learning (such as the expense of high-tech interactive tools throughout school systems), don’t be surprised if you visit your child’s classroom in the near future and find kids experimenting with a Smart Board (an interactive white board) or using a device similar to the Xbox to connect the movements of their bodies with what they are learning on the screen.