Applying a complex systems perspective to investigate the relationship between choreography and agent-based modeling as tools for scientific sense-making

September 1st, 2021 - August 31st, 2024 | PROJECT

Science is a process of inquiry that involves question asking, experimentation, and exploration. However, for youth, it is often presented as settled, a fixed collection of facts, principles, and theories that can seem sterile and unimaginative. This project is designed to combat that idea. This Research in Service to Practice project brings scientists, middle school youth and choreographers together to explore unsettled scientific phenomena from a complex systems perspective using choreography and agent-based modeling (ABM), to engage all participants in cutting edge scientific inquiry. Given the ubiquity of complex systems, being able to adopt a complex systems perspective is critical to understanding the world and our relationship to it. However, research has shown that this can be a challenge, specifically for youth. While most complex systems research has not focused on the role of the body, recent studies have shown the promise and potential of embodiment as its own form of reasoning about complex systems. Thus, this project will create exploratory science spaces foregrounding embodiment in the process of scientific discovery. The program has two phases: (1) a 20-hour training workshop where scientists and choreographers engage in interdisciplinary collaborative design work, and (2) a 60-hour summer program where the researcher-practitioner partnership involving scientists, choreographers and youth engages in agent- based & embodied choreographic scientific modeling. The summer program takes place in community-based centers in Gainesville, FL and Boston, MA broadening perceptions of what science research looks like and can be. Each site will host 20 youth, two local scientists, and a local choreographer. Participants will engage in embodied collaborative inquiry, brainstorming and modeling to create choreographic representations and culminate in a public event for the community. The project aims to understand the experiences of and shifts in youth and scientists as they engage in these activities and to understand how to design such a model for informal learning. The project will also help scientists apply a complex systems lens to their own work and settled perspectives. This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments.

Using a design-based research (DBR) approach, the project will develop and expand embodied and agent-based learning theories, while also piloting, analyzing, and refining collaborative models for science learning in informal spaces. The research questions are: 1. How does engaging in the process of creating embodied and agent-based models of complex systems contribute to new ways of understanding science, de-settle ideas about the process of how science gets “made”, and impact understanding of the role of the body in making science? and 2. How can arrangements of bodies and modeling tools work together to support understanding of complex systems? The research and design are informed by three main theoretical principles: (a) science is “dance of agency”, a process of inquiry that through iterative dialogic interaction with tools, technology, and humans, produces understandings that more and more closely explain natural phenomena; (b) embodied-interactionist theories of learning allow us to understand representational sense-making by looking closely at the processes by which representations are made, not just at representational end- products; and (c) creative embodiment and agent based modeling are valuable tools for sense-making around complex science ideas and emergent phenomena. Two cycles of design, implementation, and analysis across two different informal learning sites will be conducted. Data will be collected at both sites, resulting in four implementation and data collection periods. Each round of implementation will be staggered so that reflections and lessons from an implementation can inform the next design iteration. This project will provide insights on the relationship between choreography and ABM as tools for scientific sense-making and expand ABM to consider the role of movement and bodies more broadly in physical space. It will also contribute to an understanding of how underrepresented youth’s perceptions and conceptions of science can be shaped through embodied science activities, and of the relationships these youth see between their own bodies and identities, science, and the creative arts. Finally, by involving individuals from underrepresented communities as researchers, designers, scientists, evaluators, and advisors, this project expands cross-cultural and training opportunities within the field of education and STEM research.

Project Website(s)

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Project Products

2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 2115773

Team Members

Dionne Champion, Principal Investigator, University of Florida
Aditi Wagh, Co-Principal Investigator
Lauren Vogelstein, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2115773
Funding Amount: $665,724.00


Audience: Learning Researchers | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Scientists
Discipline: Art | music | theater | General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Public Programs | Summer and Extended Camps