Movement in Museums

Thermal Imaging Camera exhibit at Glasgow Science Centre


Understanding the role of embodied interaction in pre-school scientists in informal settings

You may have noticed how children, and adults, often move their hands and bodies around when talking about science ideas. Recent research is suggesting that we may do this because the way we think is inseparably linked to our body-based experiences in the world. In other words, our thinking is embodied. Science education researchers and practitioners often face the challenges of designing and evaluating learning experiences for young children whose language skills are still emerging. Hence, building on the evidence that movement is tightly intertwined with thinking, Move2Learn aims to investigate how thought and movement link as embodied learning to engender and accelerate science understanding.

Over the course of three years, the University of Edinburgh will be working alongside University College London, and the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, and also six practitioner sites across the UK and USA including the Glasgow Science Centre, Science Museum London, Grounds for Learning, Children’s Museum Indianapolis, Sciencecenter Ithica New York, and the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami.  Move2Learn is funded by the National Science Foundation (USA), The Wellcome Trust (UK) and the Economic and Social Research Council (UK).

Move2Learn logo

In a pioneering study, researchers and academics will work collaboratively to investigate the links between movement and learning at selected science exhibits designed for young learners (aged 3-6 years). Research will be conducted with a diverse population of children and will explore the application of embodied learning to communities who are under-represented in science.

River of Grass exhibit at Frost Museum of Science, Miami
River of Grass exhibit at Frost Museum of Science, Miami

Thermal Imaging Camera exhibit at Glasgow Science Centre
Thermal Imaging Camera exhibit at Glasgow Science Centre

By challenging traditional accounts of the mind-body relationship, this research is theoretically significant; but there are also exciting implications for how we help children learn in areas such as science. It is possible that we can facilitate learning by designing exhibits that encourage particular ‘meaningful’ actions; we can also encourage specific gestures that simulate meaningful actions. For these reasons, a design-based methodology will be applied in order to address three key research questions:

  1. What elements of sensory and action experiences are key to informing the design of exhibits that aim to exploit embodied interactions for learning?
  2. What is the role of bodily enactment /gestures in assessing children's understanding of science concepts?
  3. What cultural differences in kinds of embodied engagement emerge across diverse museum settings?

This project will raise awareness of embodied approaches to learning as well as build stronger collaborations between informal science educators and Learning Sciences researchers. It is also likely that we can develop better ways to find out what children know and understand by looking at how they interact and gesture. This may be particularly valuable for children who are less able to express themselves verbally or through writing.

Embodied Learning therefore offers exiting new avenues for both the design of science exhibits and how we facilitate children’s interaction. It is also increasingly possible to take advantage of emerging technologies that can capture and respond to how children move their bodies in informal science environments – embodied learning technologies.