Paper presented at the 46th annual meeting of the Jean Piaget Society, Chicago, June 9-11, 2016.
76 volunteering students aged 9-14 participated in a design-based research study investigating relations between perception, action, and cognition in the context of evaluating an experimental activity for learning the mathematical topic of proportions. In individually administered task-based interviews, participants manipulated a touchscreen tablet, trying to solve a micro-choreography problem involving a “mystery” bimanual coordination. Interface interactions were logged, all screen actions and multimodal utterance were videotaped, and eye-gaze pathways were recorded. For data analysis, eye-tracking pathways were superimposed onto the video data, so we could see where the participants were looking as they moved the virtual objects on the screen. To our surprise, concurrent with improved performance new eye-gaze path patterns emerged that were either static or dynamical but included screen locations bearing no apparent stimuli. Verbal and gestural input suggests that these spontaneous patterns served the participants as “steering wheels” for enhancing their control of the environment. We submit that the process of students exploring, discovering, and articulating these “steering wheels” bears a striking correspondence to Piaget’s hypothetical process of reflective abstraction: interiorization, coordination, encapsulation, and generalization. This study is perhaps the first to go beyond clinical data so as to corroborate a theoretical construct key to Piaget’s genetic epistemology.