Reposted from Slate:
From an evolutionary perspective, our brains developed to help us solve problems in the real world, moving through space and manipulating actual objects. More abstract forms of thought, such as mathematics and written language, came later, and they repurposed older regions of the brain originally dedicated to processing input from the senses and from the motor system.
This repurposing is apparent in the frequency with which we use physically grounded metaphors to express abstract ideas: counting is like moving through space (“the countdown is approaching zero”); accommodating two different principles is like “balancing” them on a scale. Bringing the body back into the equation can provide learners with a useful way station between concrete referents and all-out abstraction. Physically acting out knowledge to be learned or problems to be solved makes the conceptual metaphors employed by our brains a literal reality.
Educators and parents can help students incorporate bodily movements of their own into the use of educational technology, an approach that John Black of Teachers College of Columbia University has applied to the teaching the programming language Scratch. Asking students to act out the motions they intend for the program’s virtual “agent” using their own bodies, and then programming the agents to make the same moves, has shown itself to be “a particularly effective learning approach,” Black writes. Even when they’re learning on computers, it’s wise to remember that students are more than mental machines.”