Enhanced Learning of Proportional Math Through Music Training and Spatial-Temporal Training

Graziano, A. B., Peterson, M. & Shaw, G. L. (1999). Enhanced learning of proportional math through music training and spatial-temporal training. Neurological Research, 21, 139-152.1

Abstract:

Researchers tested the impact of a math video game on students’ understanding of the spatial basis of fractions and ratios. One hundred and thirty-six second-graders from an inner-city school participated. One group received a combination of spatial- temporal math video game training and piano keyboard training; a second group received the same amount of video game training but instead of piano got English-language training on a computer; a third group received no special training at all. There were three additional groups who received only the video game training, for three months, two months, and one month, respectively. Children were pre- and post-tested with various instruments that assess math and spatial understanding.

The group that received a combination of video game and piano scored higher than the group that received a combination of video game and English. Both groups scored higher than those who received no video game training at all. Those who received only the video game showed a positive association between length of training and score on the Evaluation Program. Both groups were reported to show about the same level of improvement on Object Assembly, Block Design, and Picture Arrangement tasks.

Key Findings:

A combination of video game and keyboard instruction can result in higher achievement than the combination of video game and English, or no video game training at all, demonstrating that the use of video game training can enhance performance on the kinds of skills it is designed to train. A correlation also exists between length of training and scores on specific tasks.

Significance of the Findings:

The study contributes to understanding the relationship between music instruction, spatial-temporal reasoning, and proportional math skills. The findings provide additional evidence of a link between music study and the development of spatial-reasoning skills. The findings also indicate that music study, combined with spatial-temporal training, enhances learning of some specific math skills.

Methodology:

The researchers designed a spatial-temporal math video game to train understanding of the spatial basis of fractions and ratios. In the first stage of the game, children manipulated images mentally, identifying what shapes would look like if they were turned upside down and responding to shapes by imagining them folded in half. In the second stage, children worked on spatial presentations of fractions and proportions. All instructions were via computer animation and required no reading. One hundred and thirty-six second-graders from an inner-city school participated. One group (n=26) received a combination of spatial- temporal math video game training (one hour twice a week for a total of 61 sessions) and piano keyboard training (over the course of the same time). Keyboard instruction consisted of learning to read music and play simple melodies. A second group (n=29) received the same amount of video game training but instead of piano got English-language training on a computer (reading, pronunciation, spelling, sentence structure). Both piano and English training were given three times a week for a total of 42 one-hour sessions. A third group (n=28) received no special training at all. There were three additional groups who received only the video game training, for three months, two months, and one month, respectively. Children were pre- and post-tested with three tasks from the WISC-III: Object Assembly, Block Design, and Picture Arrangement. Children were also post-tested with the Spatial-Temporal Math Video Game Evaluation Program, which presented the same kinds of spatial problems used in the training.

Limitations of the Research:

As a quasi-experimental study, this research provides moderate evidence of causation, that is, it tends to rule out competing explanations for the effects. However, the findings would be strengthened through additional studies that employ random selection and assignment to the various groups.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What are the effects of interventions that involve varied approaches to teaching music, including those that include movement?

1The text of this summary is adapted from the Arts Education Partnership’s 2002 research compendium: Deasy, R. J. (Ed.). (2002). Critical links: Learning in the arts and student academic and social development. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.