Wittmann, Flood, and Black on embodiment in separating variables

Algebraic manipulation as motion within a landscape
Michael C. Wittmann, Virginia J. Flood, Katrina E. Black
Educational Studies in Mathematics
February 2013, Volume 82, Issue 2, pp 169-181

We show that students rearranging the terms of a mathematical equation in order to separate variables prior to integration use gestures and speech to manipulate the mathematical terms on the page. They treat the terms of the equation as physical objects in a landscape, capable of being moved around. We analyze our results within the tradition of embodied cognition and use conceptual metaphors such as the path-source-goal schema and the idea of fictive motion. We find that students solving the problem correctly and efficiently do not use overt mathematical language like multiplication or division. Instead, their gestures and ambiguous speech of moving are the only algebra used at that moment.