Getting Started with Whole-Body Math Learning: Scale Up!


The goal of a moving math classroom is to harness students’ whole bodies and energy in a way that also focuses their attention on the mathematics in question. Learning to facilitate this kind of thinking/learning/moving activity doesn’t happen overnight but there are some specific small steps to help you and your students, get used to this new mode of math investigation.

First of all, children, need to experience what it means to learn math off the page. After all, movement during the school day is usually the bailiwick of the playground and P.E. class. Being explicit about expectations for a dual focus on both body agency and on a mathematical task, whether inside or outside the classroom, will also support the development of executive function and self-regulation skills, both of which can have a positive impact on their learning overall.

The key to learning self-regulation skills … is not to avoid situations that are difficult for kids to handle, but to coach kids through them and provide a supportive framework — clinicians call it “scaffolding” the behavior you want to encourage — until they can handle these challenges on their own. [Child Mind Institute]

Here are two related ways to help children “learn to learn” with their bodies while learning math at the same time.

1. Change the scale

We can provide opportunities for “learning to learn” with your whole body by “changing the scale” of a familiar math idea from what is normally the size of a piece of paper (hand-scale) to “body-scale.” Here are some examples of familiar math investigations that have been “scaled-up.”

One of my favorite off-the-page math investigation is a scavenger hunt, often as a photo challenge,  like this school showed in their tweet, below:

Also, don’t miss this account from MathsExplorers, based in England, who blogged recently about the creation of “an impromptu large-scale dice game” and how changing the scale motivated children during a challenging time of day.

2. Create a non-permanent, body-scale problem solving context that encourages math talk and conversation

The familiar hundred chart scaled up to body-scale (sometimes called moving-scale) is big enough to walk in/on during an investigation. Allowing students’ bodies to interact with this tool in a new way can deepen their understanding of its structure and inspire new insights about the relationship between the numbers within. As in any #movingmath activity, these insights are created by the scale of the activity as well as collaboration and conversation.

A paper hundred chart is a useful collaborative tool between, at most, two children. A body-scale hundred chart allows for many more people to think and talk together. It’s also a wonderful example of what a whole-body non-permanent problem solving context looks like. Scaling up a math activity  that is focused on making sense of math instead memorization can create a flexible problem solving context that allows the learner to adjust their answers and reasoning as their thinking progresses.

In the video below, Jenn Kranenburg, whose work with body-scale math is featured in the first half of Chapter 3 of Math on the Move, shows us how this looks and sounds in her classroom.

If you’re interested in learning more about how and why a moving math classroom is beneficial to both math learning and our students’ overall growth check out the post 5 Articles that Answer: “How can they learn math if they’re moving?”

And, if you’ve scaled up a math activity I’d love to hear about it!

Malke Rosenfeld is a dance teaching artist, author, editor, math explorer, and presenter whose interests focus on the learning that happens at the intersection of math and the moving body. She delights in creating rich environments in which children and adults can explore, make, play, and talk math based on their own questions and inclinations. Join Malke and other educators on Facebook as we build a growing community of practice around whole-body math learning.

One thought on “Getting Started with Whole-Body Math Learning: Scale Up!

  1. Pingback: Math in Unexpected Spaces

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