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Signs of Mathematics: Fostering the Emergence of Conceptual Gesture Among Deaf Students

Project description

Gesturing to learn mathematics

Studies show deaf people face more difficulties in learning mathematics than others. Unfortunately, till now nobody has tried to explain the reasons for this problem. The EU-funded SignEd.Math project aims to create a new strategy for teaching maths to deaf students. The research will draw on the influence of sign language in mathematical conceptualisation to develop a base of learning environment where sign language is enriched by body activity and expression. This design-based research will allow the creation of a new educational theory and learning design that will be applicable for linguistically diverse people.


Deaf learners have been highly neglected in mathematics education research so far. Although numerous studies in the field of deaf education have pointed out deaf students’ problems in learning mathematics and highlight a lack of mathematical skills, empirical research mainly took a deficit-oriented perspective on deaf students' learning instead of trying to better understand the specificity of their learning processes. One aspect shaping their particular way of learning mathematics is their use of spatio-motoric sign language, not only seeing it as a visual means of expression, but also as an embodied way to encounter and communicate mathematical ideas. Building on theoretical insights from my prestudy on the influence of sign language in mathematical conceptualization, this project aims at adding a more practical side to my research program on better aligning math education to deaf students’ ways of doing math. The project combines the two objectives of - designing and developing a learning environment that builds on specific resources and strengths of deaf learners—in particular their use of sign language—in order to realise their mathematical potential, and, - extending the existing knowledge on learning processes and the role of the body therein. This will be realized within a Design Based Research approach, in which development of educational material and of theory go hand in hand while passing several cycles of testing and refinement. In particular, the design is aligned to an embodied approach, assuming that (inter)acting and thinking are deeply entwined in such a way that mathematical thinking develops in activity and, at the same time, becomes expressed in it. The Embodied Design Research Laboratory at UC Berkeley provides excellent conditions to carry out this project while adding a new perspective to the work of the lab. The benefit of the educational learning design for other, linguistically diverse, settings will be explored in the return phase.



Net EU contribution
€ 264 669,12
Universitatsstrasse 2
45141 Essen

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Nordrhein-Westfalen Düsseldorf Essen, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Partners (1)