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Facilitating Student Understanding of Electrostatics Using Gestures and Topographic Maps


The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine whether integrating gestures into instruction on electrostatics and using the analogy of topographic maps to teach electrostatic diagrams facilitated undergraduate students’ understanding for electrostatics. We also examined whether spatial skills, specifically spatial visualization and mental rotation, influenced the effect of this pedagogical intervention, and whether gender influenced spatial skills, and the effect of baseline and intervention instruction. Results indicate that the effect of intervention was generally positive and comparable to baseline textbook-inspired instruction for all participants. However, female participants benefitted more from the intervention, while male participants benefitted more from baseline instruction. Results also indicate that mental rotation skill and gender both generally predicted performance, and gender predicted mental rotation skill. While additional study is certainly needed to measure the unique effects of gesture and analogy separately, these results provide evidence that the addition of these cost-effective teaching strategies in tandem may predictably bolster student understanding of this and other domain-specific STEM topics.

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