University of Illinois at Chicago

Embodying Science: Latinx Children’s Knowledge and Identity Construction While Studying Water

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posted on 2020-12-01, 00:00 authored by Rebecca T Kotler
The body is often ignored, in elementary science education, as a site of knowledge, meaning, and feeling. This study explored how embodied performances, defined as drama- and movement-based representations of science ideas, spontaneous or rehearsed, shaped construction and communication of science knowledge and identities among Latinx fifth graders in an urban school. The perspective central in this study is informed by embodied cognition, social semiotics, multimodality, aesthetic learning, and drama pedagogy, coupled with embracing sociocultural approaches to meaning making, identity theory, and justice-centered science education. In this instrumental case study, within the context of a year-long water curriculum that addressed issues of sustainability, contamination, and justice, embodied performances and other multimodal artifacts were analyzed in order to shed light on children’s construction of science knowledge, including sociopolitical understandings, and science identities. Multimodal discourse analysis and movement analysis (focusing on Body, Effort, Shape, Space) of videotaped classroom lessons and conversations with students led to four findings. Children transduced meanings across modes and translated meanings within modes, extending each other’s thinking and building ideas in collective ways. The dialogic reflections that occurred during and after planned performances provided critical spaces and places where children constructed science knowledge and identities. Multiple embodied performances of the same science concept offered a heightened level of engagement as many interpretations and comparisons became possible. Finally, perspective-taking engaged children in not only considering science ideas about lead contamination of drinking water but also developing critical consciousness of policies that impact health, and agentic identities that embrace caring, advocacy, and peoples’ rights to healthy lives. These findings suggest that interrogating how embodying science extends opportunities to construct science knowledge and agentic identities is a productive area of exploration. Furthermore, the findings compel researchers and practitioners at the crossroads of science, performing arts, and justice-centered pedagogies to develop curricula and pedagogical practices that nurture and probe more deeply the various affordances that embodied performances offer for strengthening science learning.



Varelas, Maria


Varelas, Maria


Curriculum and Instruction

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Phillips, Nathan Thomas, Michael Woodard, Rebecca Tsachor, Rachelle

Submitted date

December 2020

Thesis type



  • en

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