Response to Research: Embodied Cognition

March 17, 2016 Posted by Rhonda Meyer Vivian, Ph.D.

An article in The Hechinger Report (7/9/14) caught our interest. Thanks to Deb Vannatter in Indiana for pointing it out to us! Titled "Is the body the next breakthrough in education tech?," author Annie Murphy Paul explored the perspective known as embodied cognition and how it is playing out in education technology. Very simply, embodied cognition is the notion that we "think with and through our bodies."

Embodied cognition can be thought of as the process by which we all learn to do precise muscular activities consistently and accurately, like walking. Recently, this idea is finding some traction in the classroom. An example from the research of Margaret Chan and John Black, both of Teachers College, Columbia University illustrates the concept: " . . .physically manipulating an animation of a roller coaster helps students understand the workings of gravity and energy better than static onscreen images and text. Interestingly, this embodied exercise becomes even more helpful as the challenge of understanding grows greater: when students are younger, or the problem posed is more difficult."

The research discussed in the article highlights how digital technology helps students experience the concepts they are learning about. Using Notebook Foldables® accomplishes some of the same goals; perhaps providing students with a personally relevant example – many students have experienced roller coasters, so they tap into prior knowledge.

An opportunity to manipulate something allows students to understand abstract concepts better, whether with a digital animation or the paper tab of a Notebook Foldable. Doesn't it make sense that increasing student interaction with, and immersion into, the academic content would increase understanding and interest? We have found that young learners who don't have a lot of experience or knowledge to draw upon, and those older, more experienced learners who are trying to learn abstract, complex material, benefit equally from a more interactive approach.

The article suggests that, "bodily movements provide the memory with additional cues with which to represent and retrieve the knowledge learned." The more senses, the more of your body that is involved in a learning experience, the more memorable that experience is. That makes sense. Also, "movement may allow users to shed some of their 'cognitive load'--the burden imposed by the need to keep track of information." So we essentially outsource some of our learning to the non-brain parts of our body. That provides some insight into the experience of watching students “air fold and unfold” when taking tests over materials learned with Foldables.

This article is an interesting and not very long read. It immediately made me think of what Dinah has been talking about for years. With Notebook Foldables, we use easily available materials to help students chunk out information and master the curriculum by creating purposeful interactive activities that reinforce and organize the concepts and facts being learned. Digital technology can do many things, and is a wonderful addition to many classrooms. But when the technology fails, or is not yet available to us, it's nice to know that we can still accomplish the same goals with paper!