Journal of the Learning Sciences, 25(2), 203-239.
Whereas emerging technologies, such as touchscreen tablets, are bringing sensorimotor interaction back into mathematics learning activities, existing educational theory is not geared to inform or analyze passages from action to concept. We present case studies of tutor–student behaviors in an embodied-interaction learning environment, the Mathematical Imagery Trainer. Drawing on ecological dynamics—a blend of dynamical-systems theory and ecological psychology—we explain and demonstrate that: (a) students develop sensorimotor schemes as solutions to interaction problems; (b) each scheme is oriented on an attentional anchor—a real or imagined object, area, or other aspect or behavior of the perceptual manifold that emerges to facilitate motor-action coordination; and (c) when symbolic artifacts are introduced into the arena, they may both mediate new affordances for students’ motor-action control and shift their discourse into explicit mathematical re-visualization of the environment. Symbolic artifacts are ontological hybrids evolving from things you act with to things you think with. Students engaged in embodied-interaction learning activities are first attracted to symbolic artifacts as prehensible environmental features optimizing their grip on the world, yet in the course of enacting the improved control routines, the artifacts become frames of reference for establishing and articulating quantitative systems known as mathematical reasoning.