Embodiment and gestures

There were so many interesting articles this week that peeked my interest in Embodied learning. As the context for my teaching practice is in younger elementary students, I wanted to focus my efforts more into what embodied learning is like in how it shapes younger children’s learning, with regards to gestures and easy-to-access participatory technology.

Winn’s article introduced me to a new framework that takes constructivism and cognitive psychology to a new level, incorporating embodiment as the “physical dimension of cognition”, embeddedness, as the “interdependence of cognition and the environment”, and adaptation (Winn, W., 2002). When discussing embodiment, Winn refers to the physical realm, using our bodies as our tools in solving problems with our minds. In the elementary classroom, sensory experience largely drives the type of learning that occurs most often in science and math units. However, as Winn points out, our sensory experience of the world is quite limited, in terms of how we perceive sound, light and time, therefore, we can use artificial environments to create metaphorical representations that allow students to better grasp concepts “outside the reach of direct experience” (Winn, W, 2002). Metaphors can be tricky as they have the potential to mislead if the abstraction of the metaphor is not intuitive or pre-taught. When working with younger children who have not yet learned scientific abstractions or mathematical equations, greater scaffolding would be needed. Furthermore, Winn discussed the importance of 3D spatial sense through virtual environments. With affective strategies of engagement, immersion and enjoyment, students’ learning can be “coupled” with the environment, providing opportunities for deeper learning. Along with regularly challenging a student’s misconception through unexpected events, artificial environments can enhance a student’s learning, redefining what learning looks like.

Barab and Dede elaborated on the impact of games as an artificial learning environment for students. They stated that in order for any science curriculum to be meaningful, the learning context should be a “participatory act”, where the context shapes the understanding (Barab, S. & Dede, C., 2007). They emphasize the importance of a social nature for games and the ability to “do science” rather than simply observe and memorize, as they are incorporated into the learning process. In considering my own context, in introducing any games or artificial environments, such as Minecraft to examine landforms with my students, I need to be aware that it is the process of inquiry and collaboration with others, through their environment, that will help deepen their learning and solidify their conceptual understanding.

Finally, Novak et al.’s article opened my eyes to a new way of looking at embodied learning, through gestures. In a study of a grade 3 class, the authors found gestures, both concrete and abstract, to have a more powerful impact on the generalization of children’s learning in math compared to physical actions that directly manipulated the physical world. The results of the study found gestures to lead to “deeper and more flexible learning” (Novak, M.A. et al., 2014). Yet, how does this change if an artificial environment is considered? Interestingly enough, physical manipulatives, such as base ten blocks, actually detract from the learning process and generalization of a concept due to the physical irrelevance of moving the blocks in a physical space. I am curious to know if this would be rectified in an artificial environment. Finally, gestures allow for students to develop ideas about the relationships between problems, that actions alone do not allow. I found this particularly relevant, as I often find students struggling to make connections between concepts when they are lacking in abstract understanding.


Some questions I still have:

  • What might gestures look like in an artificial environment? Are they replaced by symbols? Does this give the same effect as a physical gesture?
  • In a participatory immersive environment, how might the teacher help target misconceptions when the environments can have so many elements? If the elements are limited, is it still immersive and just as effective?



Barab, S., & Dede, C. (2007). Games and immersive participatory simulations for science education: an emerging type of curricula. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 16(1), 1-3.

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.

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

One comment

  1. Great questions Jocelynn,

    In regards to your first one, what would gestures look like in an artificial environment? I have a feeling that it could look the same. In one of the articles we read, a deaf student gestured what he learned using his hands. This could also happen in an artificial environment too……..

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