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Gesture and Geoscience


Hand gestures are a normal, ubiquitous, and telling part of spoken language. They constitute a central feature of human development, knowing, learning, and communication across cultures (Roth, 2001). Gestures are used quite fervently in fields that are characterized as dealing with abstract matters such as science and mathematics. Gesturing is prevalent in these fields because much of science and math involve spatial thinking and requires communication of abstract and spatial concepts. A portion of spatial thinking involves building, manipulating, and using mental spatial representations. Spatial thinking also involves the use of external representations, such as maps, models, and iconic gestures (Liben, Christensen, & Kastens, 2010).

Gesture plays a very significant role in the field of geology because it is a highly spatial science that makes heavy use of graphics, models, and gestural representations (Liben, Christensen, & Kastens, 2010). A study is currently being conducted looking the role of gesture in reading and interpreting geologic maps. Geologic maps give information about the spatial relationships of geologic structures at the surface, which can inform one about the underlying 3D structures. The study focuses on how expert geologists and novices differ in the use of gestures in their explanations of these maps. 


Can gesture facilitate penetrative thinking?


Within the domain of geoscience, students with high visual penetrative ability use spatial gestures to solve Geologic Block Diagrams (Ales & Riggs, 2011).  Given the role of gesture in problem solving, gesture might facilitate penetrative thinking.  We are examining whether gesture can improve performance on the Geologic Block Diagram test.