A Better Story: an Embodied-Design Argument for Generic Manipulatives

Dana Rosen, Alik Palatnik, Dor Abrahamson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Mathematics education practitioners and researchers have long debated best pedagogical practices for introducing to students new concepts. We report on results from analyzing the behaviors of 25 Grade 4–6 students who participated individually in tutorial activities designed to compare the pedagogical effect of manipulating objects that are either generic (non-representational, not signifying specific contexts, e.g., a circle) or situated (representational, signifying specific contexts, e.g., a hot-air balloon). The situated objects gave rise to richer stories than the generic objects, presumably because the students could bring to bear their everyday knowledge of these objects’ properties, scenarios, and typical behaviors. However, in so doing, the students treated the objects’ only as framed by those particular stories rather than considering other possible interpretations. Consequently, these students did not experience key struggles and insights that the designers believe to be pivotal to their conceptual development in this particular content (proportionality). Drawing on enactivist theory, we analyze several case studies qualitatively to explicate how rich situativity filters out critical opportunities for conceptually pivotal sensorimotor engagement . We caution that designers and teachers should be aware of the double-edged sword of rich situativity: Familiar objects are perhaps more engaging but can also limit the scope of learning. We advocate for our instructional methodology of entering mathematical concepts through the action level.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUsing Mobile Technologies in the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics
EditorsNigel Calder, Kevin Larkin, Nathalie Sinclair
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
ISBN (Print)9783319901794, 9783030079536
StatePublished - 2018

Publication series

NameMathematics Education in the Digital Era


  • Attentional anchor
  • Educational design
  • Embodiment
  • Formalization
  • Manipulatives
  • Mathematics
  • Sensorimotor scheme
  • Technology


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