Embodied Physics: Using the Lenses of Physics and Dance to Investigate Learning, Engagement, and Identity Development for Black and Latinx Youth

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

The call for more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education taking place in informal settings has the potential to shape future generations, drive new innovations and expand opportunities. Yet, its power remains to be fully realized in many communities of color. However, research has shown that using creative embodied activities to explore science phenomena is a promising approach to supporting understanding and engagement, particularly for youth who have experienced marginalization. Prior pilot work by the principal investigator found that authentic inquiries into science through embodied learning approaches can provide rich opportunities for sense-making through kinesthetic experience, embodied imagining, and the representation of physics concepts for Black and Latinx teens when learning approaches focused on dance and dance-making. This Research in Service to Practice project builds on prior work to better understand the unique opportunities for learning, engagement, and identity development for these youth when physics is explored in the context of the Embodied Physics Learning Lab Model. The model is conceptualized as a set of components that (1) allow youth to experience and utilize their intersectional identities; (2) impact engagement with physics ideas, concepts and phenomena; and (3) lead to the development of physics knowledge and other skills. The project aims to contribute to more expansive definitions of physics and physics learning in informal spaces. While the study focuses primarily on Black and Latinx youth, the methods and discoveries have the potential to impact the teaching of physics for a much broader audience including middle- and high-school children, adults who may have been turned off to physics at an earlier age, and undergraduate physical science majors who are struggling with difficult concepts. 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.

The research is grounded in sociocultural perspectives on learning and identity, embodied interaction and enactive cognition, and responsive design. The design is also informed by the notion of “ArtScience” which highlights commonalities between the thinking and making practices used by artists and by scientists and builds on the theoretical philosophy that all things can be understood through art or through science but integrating the two lenses allows for more complete understandings. Research will investigate the relationship between embodied learning approaches, design principles, and structures of the Embodied Physics Learning Lab model using the lenses of physics, dance, and integrated ArtScience to better understand the model. The project employs design-based research to address two overarching research questions: (1) What unique opportunities for learning, engagement, and identity development for Black and Latinx youth occur when physics is explored in the context of the Embodied Physics Learning Lab Model? and (2) How do variations in site demographics and site implementation influence the impact and scalability of the Learning Lab model? Further, the inquiry will consider (a) how youth experience and utilize their intersectional various identities in the context of the activities, structures, and essential elements of the embodied physics learning lab; (b) how youth's level of physics engagement changes depending on which embodied learning approaches and essential element structures are used; (c) the physics knowledge and other skills youth attain through the set of activities; and (d) how, if at all, the embodied learning approaches engage youth in thinking about their own agency as STEM doers. An interdisciplinary team of researchers, choreographers, and youth along with community organizations will co-design and implement project activities across four sites. Approximately 200 high school youth will be engaged; 24 will have the role of Teen Thought Partner. Through three iterative design cycles of implementation, the project will refine the model to investigate which elements most affect successful implementation and to identify the conditions necessary for scale-up. Data will be collected in the form of video, field notes, pre- and post- interviews, pre- and post- surveys, and artifacts created by the youth. Analyses will include a combination of interaction analysis, descriptive data analysis, and movement analysis. In addition to the research findings and explication of the affordances and constraints of the model, the project will also create a curricular resource, including narrative text and video demonstrations of physics concepts led by the teen thought partners, video case training modules, and assessment tools.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Folashade Cromwell Solomon, Principal Investigator, TERC Inc
Dionne Champion, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2115921
Funding Amount: $1,072,048.00


Access and Inclusion: Black | African American Communities | Ethnic | Racial | Hispanic | Latinx Communities
Audience: Adults | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Undergraduate | Graduate Students | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Art | music | theater | Physics
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Informal | Formal Connections | K-12 Programs | Public Programs