Math and the embodied learning classroom

Winn (2003) believes that the role the environment plays in learning has been greatly underplayed in research.  As we moved to acknowledging that constructivism was a more student active way to support learning Winn builds upon that interaction between environment and learning and states that we must “in turn, […] consider […] how our physical bodies serve to externalize the activities of our physical brains in order to connect cognitive activity to the environment.” (Winn, 2003) He continues with this thought process to argue and to support his theory that a more integrated approach “framework that integrates three concepts, embodiment, embeddedness and adaptation.” (Winn, 2003)

Article two found that targeted formative qualitative feedback improves student performance on tasks.  Roschelle, Rafanan, Bhanot, Estrella, Penuel, Nussbaum, & Claro (2010) used a cooperative learning environment as it mimics similar traits to peer tutoring and encourages two positive learning situations: positive interdependence and individual accountability.  Using a program called TechPALS that encourages three students to work together to solve part of a problem in math using a portable tech device, instant feedback in relayed to the group about the problem as a whole and then the students continue to solve.  Throughout the process feedback is provided real time to the teacher.  Overall they saw “small group practice of tasks that link conceptual understanding and mathematical procedures as a genre of activity that can be further supported using technology.” (Roschelle et. al, 2010)

The third paper I read looked at use of gestures in math classroom and its influence on understanding.  Novack, Congdon, Hamani-Lopez, & Goldin-Meadow (2014) conducted a study to see if students could generalize the knowledge beyond the problem that was taught.  Novack et. al (2014) found the “first evidence that gesture not only supports learning a task at hand, but more importantly, leads to generalization beyond the task.”

I chose to look at the study of mathematics for this week as it was mentioned that so much of our work has been around science and TELE’s and I wanted to explore TELE’s in a math environment.  Students often struggle conceptually with Math, long division for example.  It’s hard to replicate with hands on learning due to size of numbers but I wonder if a more embodied learning approach would result in greater understanding by students.  I am sure there is, I just need to find it, but a TELE that would allow students to interact with large numbers and divide into groupings to see how long division works if they would then be able to bring that knowledge to the algorithm?

I end up with these questions:

  • We know feedback is important, what other TELE’s can be used to support more instant feedback to students in an elementary math classroom?
  • What bridges need to be developed or examined, for example the Math gestures study, to support students moving from concrete hands on to algorithms and showing their work?
  • What supports do teacher need to be able to teach Math in an embodied learning style?


Novack, M. A., Congdon, E. L., Hemani-Lopez, N., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2014). From action to abstraction: Using the hands to learn math. Psychological Science, 25(4), 903-910.

Roschelle, J., Rafanan, K., Bhanot, R., Estrella, G., Penuel, B., Nussbaum, M., & Claro, S. (2010). Scaffolding group explanation and feedback with handheld technology: impact on students’ mathematics learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 58(4), 399-419.

Winn, W. (2003). Learning in artificial environments: Embodiment, embeddedness, and dynamic adaptation.  Technology, Instruction, Cognition and Learning, 1(1), 87-114.


  1. Thank you for your post Sarah. I’d like to address your third question, “What supports do teacher need to be able to teach Math in an embodied learning style?”

    Formal professional development would, of course, be one route to this. However, before we even get there, I think that their needs to be a discussion with teachers (math or not and at all levels) about the benefits of embodied learning. I honestly did ‘t know much about it “formally” even though I was doing it in my classroom 🙂 Also giving teachers the opportunity to see it in action would be most beneficial in my opinion. I think embodied learning is challenging for math teachers, more so than other subject areas, but if there are teachers already doing, let’s learn from them. Once the dialogue is open and we are sharing resources perhaps more teachers will come on board. Then offering more formal Pro-D around it would be amazing!

    Lots to think about!

    1. Thank-you for your thoughts Natalie. I like the idea of seeing it in action more, like you. I haven’t seen a lot of embodied learning in Math either and would love to know more. Sarah

  2. To respond to your question about what Math teachers need to teach in an embodied learning style, I would suggest that, as with any sort of new teaching methodology, that mentorship between teachers to be the most important supporting factor. Personally, I know of very little embodied teaching methods at the high school level where I teach, and in order for me to learn these methods, I would need someone to show me, and an opportunity for us to sit down and discuss strategies. Math teachers will need collaboration time, and experts in the methodology willing to share their knowledge.

    1. I agree Gary. I think learning more is needed before I could help anyone with this strategy. It is certainly the first time I have heard of it too. Thanks, Sarah

  3. Hi Sarah,

    I also read these three articles this week and found the discussion regarding assessment intriguing as this has been an area of focus for myself within the past year. Assessment can be a difficult to define as was evident in the Rochelle et. al article when teachers responses varied considerably regarding what was actually being assessed, and this was something I related to while working in an Inquiry based school, as there can be a divide between opinions with senior and junior teachers. What I do like about BC’s new curriculum model is their understand, know, do model which looks at a holistic approach to learning that includes skills and self-reflection. In response to your first question, I think it would be great for teachers to form consultative/professional groups and look into creating more TELEs for feedback in math classrooms that target elementary grades in particular. Creating a network between students in this class would also be worthwhile. While reading the article on feedback, I thought about the use of Kahoot games in the classroom, and how students love this style of learning/reinforcing concepts. I wonder if students were able to see their feedback afterwards (going over answers that were incorrect) if this would be a good way for them to receive feedback?



    1. Great ideas Christina,
      I have used Socrative in my classroom and I like it a lot for collaborative discussions is creates. I experienced Kahoot for the first time a few months back, but I haven’t tried in the classroom yet, so it is great to hear about someone who has used it. I am encouraged to try it this fall.
      Assessment is definitely a tricky one and one that needs a lot more conversation with all interested parties, teachers, administrators and parents to develop ways that support the newer style of learning and yet provides enough information. Sarah

  4. In response to you question…

    “What supports do teacher need to be able to teach Math in an embodied learning style?”

    I think an important consideration is access to larger spaces. The size of my classroom is a limitation when trying to create experiences that require a lot of movement. Getting consistent access to larger spaces like the gym can be difficult.

    1. Hmm, interesting, not something I had thought of. You are right though, I know getting gym time in my building for anything but PE is generally impossible. Thanks for sharing.

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