Embodied Learning

All of the papers I read related in that they connect knowledge construction to actions and movements within learning environments.

Winn (2003) argues that the recent focus of educational research on constructivism has ignored some aspects of learning and advocates a return to a more computational view of learning. He considers of how our “physical bodies serve to externalize the activities of our physical brains in order to connect cognitive activity to the environment.” (p. 88) In his view, “learning is considered to arise from reciprocal interactions between external, embodied, activity and internal, cerebral, activity, the whole being embedded in the environment in which it occurs” (Winn, 2003).  He discusses how technologies can create artificial environments that to bring students to concepts that lie outside the reach of direct experience.

Zhang et al. (2010) discuss developing a mobilized science curriculum to help students “become self-directed and social learners who could learn everywhere and all the time using mobile technologies.” (p.62) The researchers advocate using mobile technology to connect with a broader range of learning environments. The mobile technology allows the students to be more active and bring the technology to the relevant aspects of the environment.

In a 2014 study From Action to Abstraction: Using the Hands to Learn Math researchers found that students learning abstract gesturing connected to math was an effective learning strategy. It was compared with students physically acting on their environment and a concrete gesture miming an action. While all three were found to be beneficial “only gesture led to success on problems that required generalizing the knowledge gained” (Novak et al., 2014). The researchers suggested that gesturing while saying words may help learners process the words associated with the learning in a less superficial way.

Connecting movement to learning concepts is something that I am constantly trying to find ways to accomplish. I have been using a game called Super Math World (https://supermathworld.com/join/demo formerly Mathbreakers) to teach number concepts. It’s a little hard to explain but students are immersed within a 3D world and interact with their environment to create specific numbers by combining, dividing, multiplying, etc. in order to progress beyond barriers and enemies marked with a value by “zeroing” them out. This year I brought them to the gym where they had to design their own “level” based on the design of the game. They had to consider the relationships between numbers they included, the required operations and ensure that there were multiple solutions to the level. Its is a challenging game but the movement and actions incorporated brought the problem solving to a whole new level. They came back with a deeper understanding which generalized back to the digital game.

In another course, a student introduced Smallab Learning which is  designed around embodied learning. It looks very interesting…



How can we purposefully include gesturing in mathematics instruction?

Does anyone include role play activities in math and science?

What are some examples of reasonably accessible technologies that support embodied learning?


Ahmed, S., & Parsons, D. (2013). Abductive science inquiry using mobile devices in the classroom. Computers & Education, 63, 62-72.

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.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3984351/

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


  1. In looking at how to introduce gesture in Mathematic instruction take a look at this https://gallery.leapmotion.com/blocks/
    Although its way out of most schools price range I think the tech will come down to a level where we can purchase it for students to use. Really it makes sense, our hands are tools that we rely the most on, why not place these inside a virtual space to manipulate objects?

  2. In response about your question about role playing in Mathematics education, I believe there is a very strong case for role playing in teaching certain topics in Mathematics. For example, one of the topics taught in the BC Math 9 curriculum is the creation of a simple budget. In learning about budgeting, you don’t have a choice but to role play as someone who has money to spend on an assigned task. This is one example of how in some situations, one may have to step out of their own character in order to learn Mathematical concepts. Alternatively, role playing could be incorporated into anchored instruction situations to enrich the given problem scenarios, and may be used as a problem solving strategy.

    1. I agree. Some former students came to visit who are now in grade 8 this year. They were telling me about a math project in which they had to engage in role play as real estate agents and mortgage brokers to find affordable houses using MLS for their clients based on their incomes. They were very engaged by the project, which was much different than the usual responses from former students when I ask about math.

  3. Hi Derek,

    I checked out your link to Super Math World and I think it is a great example of connecting movement to math concepts. I can see how students would be engaged in the game and I love the extension you added to making their own during gym. What a fantastic way to get kids moving while also meeting cross-curricular expectations!

    To answer your question about what role play I have utilized in my class, I generally teach primary education. That being said, role play is evident on a daily basis. Especially with past Kindergarten classes, I encourage children to role play during their centre time. For example, we had a centre with a few fake baked goods and that quickly turned into a mini Tim Hortons. The children created their own doughnuts and on their own, decided on their roles in the store (ie. one person was the cashier, another was the baker, the customer, etc). I would help the students calculate what a doughnut would cost and they would help make change. Role play allowed the students to live out an imaginary scenario while encouraging mathematics learning to occur. When I moved to Grade 1 last year, I found that this ‘play time’ was invaluable and really should continue from Kindergarten into Grade 1. Everyday, there would be a block on ‘Inquiry & Exploration’ where students could choose what centres/activities they wanted to go to but would have to be able to tell me what they were learning and to demonstrate their learning (i.e. at the block centre they would have to create a blueprint of their design before they built it). This encouraged the students to be accountable for their learning and to help them name what they were doing (i.e. when I saw they were building rectangles I would ask them what shape they just made). This type of open learning I find creates a much more positive learning environment as well!

    1. That sounds great! The younger grades in my school are exploring play-based learning and they are finding exactly what you describe. By connecting some elements of accountability the play becomes more purposeful and the kids become more aware of what they are doing and the choices that they are making.

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