Workshop 2013

Workshop - November Friday, 22, 2013

Department di Education and Humanities - University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

h. 14:00-18:30 – Aula 7

Science and Language

The Art and Science of Science Communication

Organized by

Federico Corni (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia)

Hans U. Fuchs (Zurich University of Applied Sciences at Winterthur)


Goals: Present and discuss issues in science communication and linguistics related to an understanding of nature and technology.

14:00   Introduction: Language and Nature
            Hans U. Fuchs - Zurich University of Applied Sciences at Winterthur

14:15   Using stories for science teaching in early education: linguistic observations on the Winter story on heat
            M. Elena Favilla
– Dip. di Educazione e Scienze Umane, UNIMORE

Emilia Calaresu – Dip. di Educazione e Scienze Umane, UNIMORE

14:45   Student teachers becoming science storytellers
            Federico Corni
– Dip. di Educazione e Scienze Umane, UNIMORE
Enrico Giliberti – Dip. di Educazione e Scienze Umane, UNIMORE

15:15   Metaphor between semantic innovation and conceptual transfert
Annamaria Contini
– Dip. di Educazione e Scienze Umane, UNIMORE

15:45   Exploring the role of metaphor in communication of contemporary physics. A case study
            Gabriele Ceroni – Sc. di dottorato in scienze, tecnol. e sci. umane, UNIBO

16:15   Coffee Break

16:30   The problem of Mathematics communication: the mathematics laboratory
            Maria G. Bartolini Bussi – Dip. di Educazione e Scienze Umane, UNIMORE

17:00   Learning through modeling and simulation: a grounded cognition perspective
            Franco Landriscina - Allianz Spa and Dip. di Scienze Umane, UNITS

17:30   Forces of nature and the dynamics of buildings: Talking about energy with architects and builders
            Hans U. Fuchs - Zurich University of Applied Sciences at Winterthur

18:00   Discussion and closing remarks



Contacts:         Federico Corni -

                       Hans U. Fuchs -

The workshop offers the occasion to analyse the theme with contributions from researchers with various backgrounds and to start a discussion about science communication with a wide perspective, from language to philosophy and psychology, from science and technology to mathematics.


Questions and themes to be explored

  • What is the structure of human perception of nature?
  • What is the metaphorical system used in macroscopic physical science and biology?
  • Are there large-scale figurative structures such as story and collages of stories in science?
  • Are there visual metaphors in science?
  • What is the role of the gestalt of forces in understanding of nature and machines?
  • Can teachers learn to be good storytellers?
  • Does it make sense for communicators (teachers, journalists, etc.) to learn about linguistic and literary tools (learn to use good language)?
  • How can we train communicators to understand nature and machines and to talk and write well about them?
  • How important is it for communicators (or for the public at large) to understand the nature of science and the nature of the human mind if they want to understand scientific issues better?
  • How important is it to understand the development of the human mind if we want to understand nature (taking an evolutionary perspective upon human understanding)?
  • Can explicit modeling and simulation help us to understand nature and machines?
  • Can models be cast in the form of images and stories?
  • How do we learn to understand energy?
  • How do we learn to understand complex systems?
  • What are the figures of thought used to understand the microscopic world?
  • Can we understand quantum physics and relativity? What are the figures of thought used to present these topics?
  • …and many more…





Using stories for science teaching in early education: linguistic observations on the Winter story on heat.

M. Elena Favilla and Emilia Calaresu

Some linguistic observations on the text of the Winter story on heat will be put forward in order to discuss the opportunity to prepare one or more versions of the story to be used in a project aimed at assessing the effectiveness of this kind of story to develop/strengthen the conception of heat in terms of quantity, intensity and power.


Student teachers becoming science storytellers about macroscopic processes.

Federico Corni and Enrico Giliberti

We present details of a physics course for prospective primary school teachers that is based upon the structures of figurative thought available already to young children.

The structures referred to are those found in the Force Dynamic Gestalt of natural forces such as heat, water, wind, electricity, chemicals, or motion. The same structures figure prominently in the formal science of physics. We demonstrate how student teachers can profit greatly from an approach that builds on everyday language and everyday conceptualizations. Our experience shows that teachers trained in this manner become confident narrators of basic physical processes.


Metaphor between semantic innovation and conceptual transfert


Annamaria Contini

There is a common element to studies that in recent decades philosophers, psychologists and linguists have devoted to the question of metaphor: all point out that the metaphor is not simply a rhetorical device, a way to make the language more lively and attractive, but is instead a cognitive tool, a process that has to do with the thought as much and perhaps more than with language.

However, just within these studies, we can find a singular oscillation. On the one hand, it is argued that the metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, namely that the metaphor structure how we perceive e how we think,  allowing us to conceptualize the less tangibly or less clearly delineated in terms of the more tangibly or more clearly delineated. On the other hand, it is argued instead that metaphor produces an innovation both at the semantic level as the conceptual level, allowing us not only to extend or change the meaning of a term but also to reorganize the existing categories or create new categories ad hoc. This is a contradiction? Or the two theses are compatible with each other? These questions seem very relevant to a didactics of sciences who want to exploit the educational and communicative potentials of metaphor. In fact, if the metaphor involves innovation on the semantic and conceptual, as may facilitate the learning of complex concepts? Not quite likely to further complicate the learning process?


Exploring the role of metaphor in communication of contemporary physics. A case study.

Gabriele Ceroni

The research problem is framed within the general context of public communication of complex scientific topics. The addressed issue is the effectiveness of the explanation of contemporary physics (i.e. quantum physics or relativity) to a public audience.

We focus on our basic research question: is it possible to find formal and reliable tools, not belonging to the domain of physics, apt at evaluating the effectiveness of the explanation of advanced topics in contemporary physics to a non-professional audience without ‘corrupting’ the disciplinary meaning (communication of ‘good physics’)? Besides, could this kind of approach help us to define the concept of ‘good physics’ itself? 

Searching for a reference methodology, we have drawn our attention to the role of storytelling scheme in explanation and in particular to the role of the metaphorical forms in the construction of ‘actual’ physical meanings. The conceptual metaphor perspective, within the framework of cognitive linguistics, appeared to be the most promising analytical tool for our purposes. 

An analysis of a case study will be presented: Schrödinger’s analogy for ‘elementary particle’.


The problem of Mathematics communication: the mathematics laboratory.

Maria G. Bartolini Bussi

In science and mathematics, inquiry-based methods have ancient traditions. The iconography of scientists and mathematicians in Europe (but also in the Far East) often shows people making observations of natural phenomena or using scientific instruments. The image of professional scientific experience is strictly connected with the idea of the scientific laboratory. The strict links between inquiry methods in natural science/mathematics and scientific laboratories are part of everyday image of science (although with limited impact on teaching methods). Several collections of historical interest are stored in science museums in the US and in Europe and both historical and modern instruments appear in exhibitions addressing general audiences all over the world.

Yet, the activity of professional mathematicians is supposed to be far from experimental activity. This image is reinforced by the communication style of most mathematicians. In the past, however, in mathematics, using artefacts (and transforming them into mental instruments) was a common practice since the ancient age: counting, representing numbers or reckoning drew on abaci and mechanical calculators; drawing figures drew on the straightedge, the compass, set squares and templates; technical drawing was developed by instruments and so on. The above artefacts left traces in the development of mathematics: abaci are related to the place value representation of numbers and to the algorithms of arithmetic operations; the straightedge and the compass are the roots of Euclid’s Elements; perspectographs are the roots of modern projective geometry.  My claim is that the concrete experience in mathematics laboratory is a good way to communicate mathematics, both for general audience and students in school.

There are different visions of what might be a mathematical laboratory. The instrumental perspective fosters research, teaching and learning of mathematical modelling and the ability to apply mathematics to genuine real world problems. The conceptual perspective claims that the aim of exploration in mathematics is the construction of mathematical meanings. The two approaches are not conflicting but complementary. As the history of mathematics clearly shows, the relationships between mathematics and other cultural processes (e.g. language, science, technology, art) are dialogical. In some cases existing mathematical instruments are used to model phenomena from other fields; in other cases mathematical theories are the outcomes of exploration of other fields (as the case of perspective drawing, where projective geometry is rooted, clearly shows). The conceptual perspective was assumed in Italy by the Italian Mathematical Union: A mathematical laboratory activity involves people (students and teachers), structures (classrooms, tools, organisation and management), ideas (projects, didactical planning and experiments). We can imagine the laboratory environment as a Renaissance workshop, in which the apprentices learned by doing, seeing, imitating, communicating with each other, in a word: practicing. In the laboratory activities, the construction of meanings is strictly bound, on one hand, to the use of tools, and on the other, to the interactions between people working together (without distinguishing between teacher and students). It is important to bear in mind that a tool is always the result of a cultural evolution, and that it has been made for specific aims, and insofar, that it embodies ideas.

My presentation addresses examples of Mathematical laboratory where manipulative artifacts are contained in the form of gears, curve drawing devices, perspectographs and similar. They are have been part of either didactical experience in schools or exibitions addressing general audience, with different aims, surely, but with a strong reference, in both cases, to narratives.


Learning through modeling and simulation: a grounded cognition perspective.

Franco Landriscina

This talk argues that cognitive processes involved in simulation-based learning can be analysed in light of the concept of mental simulation, which is currently studied in many areas of Cognitive Science. Two sets of observations relating computer-based simulation and mental simulation are presented. The first concerns similarities and differences between these two forms of simulation. The second one is that building and simulating computer models can enhance students’ mental processes in dealing with scientific concepts. Furthermore, a grounded cognition perspective on simulation-based learning is presented which focuses on the interplay between experiential and verbal input in the design of instructional activities.


Force of nature and the dynamics of buildings: Talking about energy with architects and builders.

Hans U. Fuchs

Architects and builders are involved in an important aspect of our current concern with nature and technology. The energy used to build and operate buildings is a major fraction of total energy consumption by humans. Builders in general, and architects in particular, are not always conversant in the technological and scientific aspects of energy use in their buildings. In this talk, I will concentrate upon the question of how understand thermal processes relevant for energy use in building. I will argue that a basic understanding of forces of nature—including having a basic feeling for the language used to talk about them—can help professionals in the field to communicate more effectively. This should help them to better understand issues such as regenerative energy sources and how to harness them, heat pumps, fuel cells, and co-generation, just to name a few important technologies.