Does tracing worked examples enhance geometry learning?

Year: 2012

Author: Hu ,Fangtzu, Ginns, Paul, Bobis, Janette

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Purpose: Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) suggests that working memory capacity available for learning may be increased if new information is presented across different sensory modalities. Adding the haptic modality-the sensorimotor input from the hands in particular-to improve traditional visually- and auditorially-based learning has been investigated across a number of studies and from a variety of perspectives (e.g., Goldin-Meadow & Wagner, 2005; Hulme, Monk, & Ives, 1987; Roth, 2001). To date, however, CLT has not considered incorporating haptic input into the design of instructional materials. The purpose of this study is to explore the impact on learning of incorporating the haptic modality from a cognitive load perspective.

Method: Previous research in CLT has established the superiority of worked examples over problem solving when students are novices in a given topic. This present study will extend this body of research by examining whether explicitly instructing students to trace out worked examples with their index finger further enhances the basic worked example effect.

This study will be conducted using a between-group experimental design, with random assignment to either the tracing or non-tracing condition. Key hypotheses are as follows:

1. A sequence of study consisting of multiple worked examples incorporating instructions to trace out elements of geometry diagrams while studying worked examples will lead to better learning, as measured on a subsequent test.

2. After each test question, participants will be asked to rate the difficulty of the question, as a measure of cognitive load. Participants in the tracing condition are expected to rate the test materials as less cognitively demanding than those in the non-tracing condition, indicating formation of superior problem-solving schemas.

The hypotheses above will be examined with Year 6 students from independent Sydney primary schools, using paper-based mathematics instructional materials on the angle relationships involving parallel lines.

Results & Conclusion: The study is currently being conducted; results and conclusion will be presented at the conference.


Goldin-Meadow, S., & Wagner, S. M. (2005). How our hands help us learn. TRENDS in Cognitive Science, 9, 234-241.

Hulme, C., Monk, A., & Ives, S. (1987). Some experimental studies of multi-sensory teaching: The effects of manual tracing on children's paired-associate learning. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 5, 299-307.

Roth, W-M. (2001). Gestures: Their role in teaching and learning. Review of Educational Research, 71, 365-392.