Embodied Design


The theory known as Embodied Cognition argues that cognition is shaped by bodily experiences in interaction with the world, and is not just a matter of representation in the brain. There is a wide variety of perspectives within this general approach (see a rough tree of the ideas on a diagram). The amounting evidence for this approach has led educational researchers to include data on action (hand movement) and perception (eye movements) in studies of learning, even in the domain of abstract mathematics. Moreover, educational researchers also think through the implications for embodied design (Abrahamson, 2009). Inspired by Abrahamson’s Embodied Design Research Lab (EDRL), we apply this theory to the domain of mathematics, since it is what many learners struggle with due to the difficulty of visualizing or materializing its abstract concepts.

We are a team at Utrecht University, Netherlands that together with our international collaborator Dor Abrahamson from University of California, Berkeley, have designed a set of embodied interactive activities for a number of mathematical concepts.

We study how action (what students do), perception (what they see), and reasoning (what they say) interact to solve proportional tasks without formal mathematical instruction. We have found that children are creative and successful in their problem solving with the app, with no explicit instruction on mathematical proportion during the task. Also they sometimes think in terms of geometrical concepts that are not visualized in the interface.

This project challenges you to think about alternative, embodied ways in which students may acquire mathematical knowledge. It offers a methodologically challenging micro-study of mathematics learning.