Gravity, imagination and embodied concepts of spacetime

Poster abstract

Though  we  live  in  a  four-dimensional  universe,  our  minds  and  bodies  are  not  particularly  good  at perceiving  and  depicting  four  dimensions.  100 years ago Albert Einstein revolutionised  our understanding of the world when he interpreted gravity as a feature of curved spacetime. In our work, we use video observations from high school physics  students that study  Einstein’s general theory of   relativity as a setting to identify conceptual challenges that arise when learners attempt to make meaning with, and  express conflicting notions of, gravity, space and time. Specifically, this research contributes to our understanding of imaginative strategies that students employ to make sense  of gravity when bodily and experiential understandings conflict with the conceptual domain. Building on theoretical  perspectives that treat imagining as a social activity, we carry out a detailed analysis of a conversation between two physics students working with concepts of gravity. We  demonstrate that students perform a diverse set of imaginative strategies that are strongly tied to cognitive, communicative, and bodily practices when trying to relate  abstract descriptions of curved spacetime to their everyday  experience of gravity. Based on our analysis, we give recommendations to improve instructional practices in general relativity and argue for the consideration of imagining as an important competency in science education.

Published May 19, 2017 10:57 AM - Last modified May 19, 2017 10:57 AM