New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 12

Accepted Abstracts

Understanding starts in the mesocosm: Embodied Cognition as a Framework to develop External Representations for Science

Kai Niebert, University of Zurich, Science and Sustainability Education (Switzerland)


A review of the extant literature over the past decades shows how science teachers and science education researchers have probed various external representations for teaching science. These empirical findings give evidence for what every science teacher knows from his own practise: Some representations are more effective than others.

We approach this issue based on the theoretical framework of embodied cognition that we utilize to analyse, explain and predict meaningful learning. Embodied cognition describes understanding as based on bodily and social perception. As our perception is adapted to a medium scale dimension, our embodied conceptions originate from this mesocosmic scale. With respect to this epistemological principle we distinguish between micro-, meso- and macrocosmic phenomena.

In prior studies we analysed students’ and scientists’ conceptions on different phenomena based on this approach. We were able to confirm Lakoff and Johnson’s [6]claim that understanding is grounded in bodily experience: Understanding science is not just a matter of using a multiplicity of imaginative thinking tools like metaphors, analogies, or models to bridge the gap between embodied thought and abstract science concepts. It is a matter of how these imaginative thinking tools assist students to construct scientific conceptions. As teachers use more external representations than metaphors and analogies to teach science, like different visualizations, models, task-based worksheets, interactive simulations, observations, photos, diagrams etc. we are widening our approach to the diverse range of external representations. In the paper we use embodied cognition as a lens to analyse: How can embodied cognition inform the analysis and design of external representations that foster an understanding of science concepts from micro- and macrocosm?

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