Does incorporating a kinesthetic assignment improve student learning of a complex topic?

Submitted by Rachel Smith on

Gene expression is a complex multi-step process that students struggle to learn. There are many terms to memorize and then students need to remember the functions and roles of all the molecular players and the order in which each molecule participates in the overall process. I currently use lecture, diagrams, animations, a worksheet and websites to teach this topic and I have also incorporated a hands-on lab using manipulatives where the students create their own working model of gene expression using yarn, foam pieces, pasta, playdoh, post-its and other random junk (see attached pics). Sometimes we have time to do this lab and sometimes we do not.  In this study I compared the scores of students who did the lab with those that did not to see if using this activity improves learning, as measured by several questions covering gene expression on the Unit 4 Exam.  Overall, there was an increase from 11.86/20 to 14.09/20 on a large 20 point question that reviews the entire process.  This is an 11% increase (2.23 out of 20).  Data and further analysis are attached.  We will retain this activity as it does positively impact student learning.

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Assessment of the Month
Average: 5 (7 votes)


Bronwen Steele Tue, 01/13/2015 - 10:41am

YAY, evidence this activity is worth it! This is very encouraging, I am going to consider manipulatives when I review this in micro.

Michelle Breaux Tue, 01/13/2015 - 10:44am

This is great! I know it can be easy to cut out these types of activities when we run out of time, but as you showed, they are really valuable for student learning.

Rachel Holmes Tue, 01/13/2015 - 10:44am

Taking the time to do the lab is definitely beneficial to students based on your data, and it clearly makes the learning more interactive and meaningful.  Thank you for also including the pictures!

Olga Tsoudis Tue, 01/13/2015 - 10:58am


This is an incredible activity! 

It is very creative and can be applied in other disciplines.

Thanks! Olga

Rachel Smith Tue, 01/13/2015 - 11:52am

There is additional statistical analysis in the spreadsheet attached to this CATS.  Here is some info below: 

It appears that the increase in scores occurs for all students, not preferentially for students who otherwise struggle with the  material.  I looked at the average score on the last question for those students who passed the exam (>70) and those who failed the exam (<70).  When comparing the group who did the activity to the group that did not, averages for all students were increased by 2. Therefore poor-performing students who did the activity scored 2 points higher than their poor-performing peers who did not do it, and similarly high-performing students who did the activity scored 2 points higher than their high-performing peers who did not.   The reason that I did this analysis is because often students cite that their learning style is not compatible with my class style as a reason for their poor performance.  The usual thing I hear from students is that "I am a hands-on learner and your classes have a lot of lecture". I have long suspected that this was not necessarily the case and that poor performance has much more to do with student preparedness, motivation and other factors, but I have not been able to collect data to test this before.  ** SEE SHEET 2 for Further analysis

Heather Muns Fri, 02/13/2015 - 5:07pm

Love it!  I am always trying to find ways to work in some type of manipulative into my lessons.  They make a huge difference for our students.  Well done!

Peter Turner Mon, 02/16/2015 - 4:59pm

Classic CATS, Rachel! You id'ed a problem, came up with a creative way to resolve it, implemented it, and it worked!

My only question is, did you put more overall time into this objective by adding the manipulatives assignment, or did it replace another strategy? That said, I loved that you turned to the global-tactile- kinesthetic modality to improve comprehension and retention!