EXP: Mobile, Movement, and Math

PIs: John Black, Frances Nankin, Sandra Sheppard
Teachers College, Columbia University
Award Details

The project team is integrating the stories, characters, math content, and research of New York’s public television station’s (WNET), Cyberchase multimedia project with Teachers’ College’s research on embodied cognition theory and gesture-base simulation games to create two mobile application prototypes to be used in studies focused on learning with technology that takes embodied cognition theory into account in the context of story narrative. The content focus of the research and development is fractions, a topic that is a major stumbling block for children in the target age group of 8-11, yet lays a crucial foundation for later success in mathematics, science, and related fields. Grounded theory suggests that our cognition is grounded in the physical world we live in and the ways our bodies are able to move and perceive. According to this theory, there are three steps involved in learning something in a grounded way — having embodied experiences (ones where our bodies take part), learning to imagine that embodied experience, and practicing imagining the experience with symbolic materials. The physical movements do not have to be big ones; simply moving a finger across an expanse to designate numerical magnitude has been shown to help with understanding of magnitude, for example. What is important is that the gestures should be conceptually congruent with knowledge being learned. Research addresses the conditions under which gesture-based math practice (here, in the context of the math games) promotes better math learning and the interactions between gesture and story line that are effective in promoting sustained engagement and content learning. The project’s research and design context tests a basic design framework that integrates the promises of new technology, embodied cognition theory, and well-loved story narratives and has potential to be applicable to the the teaching of other mathematics concepts and, more broadly, to a variety of STEM disciplines.

This project focuses on fraction learning, a stumbling block for many elementary schoolers. The team is applying what is known about the relationship between body movement and learning to develop engaging apps for smartphones and tablets with touch screens that allow youngsters (ages 8 to 11) to experience mathematical concepts through their gestures and that give them practice applying the mathematics they are learning in a variety of situations. Use of the apps is embedded in discussion and play in the context of a well-loved television series called Cyberchase (developed by New York’s WNET) that promotes mathematics learning. Research is investigating the conditions under which use of gesture promotes mathematics learning and effective ways of integrating mathematics practice, reflection, and story telling so that children will better understand and be able to use fractions. Answers to research questions is expected to be applicable in other areas of mathematics and across STEM disciplines.

Tags: , , ,