Inside the Whole-Body Newspaper Build Project

IMG_2906A few months ago I was asked by a school district to develop a pre-workshop workshop (yes, you heard right!) for 100 (!) 4th and 5th graders from six different elementary schools. I was brought in to design a pre-contest project that would focus on the process of collaborating in a making setting. This, in turn, would set the scene for an afternoon of collaborative Rube Goldberg Machine design and testing.

I knew exactly what I would do! For the most part, math activities and building projects are either on the page or explored with the hands. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I knew from my work developing and fine tuning Math in Your Feet that a scaled up, whole-body activity provides some mighty opportunies for talking, negotiating, learning, and working together.

We divided the kids, who, for the most part, were meeting their group members for the first time, into 20 groups of five. Each of the 10 adult chaperones were tasked with keeping tabs on two groups and providing ocassional check-ins. Once the kids were organized, I gave them a challenge:

Using the newspaper rolls and blue tape, work together with your group to build a structure that can 1) stand up independently of human support and 2)  be big enough to hold at least one or two group members, either sitting or standing inside the structure.

During the workshop I scheduled three formal moments for the groups to pause their activity and reflect with their teammates about aspects of their communication and the building process. The lesson plan has all the details.

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As part of my planning I decided that if we were going to do a project with this many kids I really wanted to have a detailed understanding of what they thought about the process. I knew that the workshop itself would go well enough because I’ve done this before at a smaller scale. However, I wanted their final activity of the build to be focused on personal written reflection. I wanted to gauge the overall dynamics and, hopefully, get some “data” on what nine and ten year olds might take away from a workshop that is intentionally focused on collaborative learning and making at the same time.

I was not disappointed! Below you’ll find their responses to three reflection prompts. The first reflection prompt was so rich I decided to break it into three parts. Responses to the final two reflection prompts follow after.

A NOTE ON CHANGING SCALE 
Kids are used to building with their hands. Legos, Kinex, marble mazes, etc. provide ample opportunity for literally building spatial reasoning which is the foundation of mathematical thinking. The newspaper rolls are one large sheet of newspaper rolled on the diagonal and can create a potent creative constraint requiring inginuity and collaboration. Their reflections, below, will give you a good sense of this.


What did you notice about the building process? [3 Sections]

NOTICING THE BUILD PROCESS

  • I noticed in the building process that the structure was too short for Livie to fit in
  • I noticed we did not build the structure like we said we would
  • I noticed that the newspaper rolls wouldn’t stand up still [by themselves]
  • We used a lot of tape and used 25 newspaper rolls
  • The building process took a while but it didn’t take forever
  • [I noticed] that it is pretty hard to build something big
  • It was difficulat to keep the newspaper from falling down
  • We added as we built so we could fit more people [into the structure]
  • I noticed it was in stages
  • Our ideas got different throughout the building time
  • I noticed that one side wouldn’t stay up until we made the other sides
  • That a cube won’t just hold by itself
  • That it wouldn’t stand at first but then when we put more newpaper rolls and tape it finally stood up without us holding it
  • The plan changed a lot throughtout the process
  • It was very tilty and frustrating
  • I noticed that the project isn’t as easy as you think
  • It was frustrating, and hard to do
  • It was challenging but fun
  • Pretty hard until the end
  • We just added as we went

NOTICING COMMUNICATION

  • I saw that people did what they wanted, not what we said/suggested. It just went right over their heads.
  • We were a quiet group and we started talking near the end
  • It was bad because they kinda ignored me
  • I noticed that communicating was a HUGE step of this process
  • It was fun!

NOTICING COLLABORATION

  • If teamwork worked and everybody was not goofing around our tower would have worked and it would have been a lot easier
  • I noticed that it was fast, fun, cool and nobody got mad, and I made friends
  • That having a group is very helpful
  • I noticed certain people helping, giving ideas, saving the thing that we were building [from falling down] and making new friends.
  • It was challenging and exciting
  • We made a teepee structure
  • I noticed that the building process was hard and easy depending on what we were doing
  • I noticed that everyone wanted to achieve the same thing. We worked well and let everyone do something!
  • We let everyone say what they thought should be added or fixed
  • We were working together and sharing ideas to each other
  • Everybody got the chance to help in the building process, we all built it
  • While building the structure we all agreed on things
  • What I noticed about the building process is that if you work with a team it is more fun
  • I didn’t feel heard because some of the my group kind of ignored what I said.

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Would things have been easier or harder if you hadn’t been required to collaborate in a group?
  • It would be easier to do by myself because I don’t have to talk to other people
  • It would have been harder to hold  [the structure] steady while putting on the tape
  • [My role was] holding up things. I felt heard by all of the different group members because we all got a chance to talk.
  • It would have been hard to come up with the ideas, and hard to hold up stuff
  • It would  have been easier if we didn’t collaborate as a group because nobody would knock [the structure] down
  • What would’ve been harder was to tkeep it standing on its ownwhile I added supports
  • It would be easier if you did it on your own with your own creativity
  • The building structure would have looked more like what I had in mind
  • I like to work by myself
  • Harder, because without teamwork I would not have the great ideas. Everything would have been harder without a group because it’d be more work and less fun.
What was your role in the building process? Would you have liked a different role? Did you feel heard by the other group members?
  • I felt like I did everything
  • I did tape and I liked it. My group members let me choose where to put the tape and everyone had a voice in the building/design process.
  • I felt heard because everyone held where I assigned them to and let go when I asked them to.
  • I felt heard a lot because all of our thoughts were put into this
  • We sometimes changed the roles so everybody else got the chance to do something
  • My role was the tape. I felt heard by the others in the group because we were giving our opinions
  • I did not have a role because everyone else was doing everything
  • I felt bad they would not try my ideas
  • My role was to stay in the middle with or without Izzy, and we did it and built our house. I wish I was in the middle because you don’t have to do much work
  • My role was to help tape and come up with some ideas a bout how to keep it standing
  • I was building like everybody else. I felt heard by everyone. They listenend to my ideas and put them into action.
  • We actually all switched roles at different times

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I’m thrilled about how seriously the students took the final written reflection because it provided great insights into what was happening inside each group. As I anticipated, some groups worked well, some didn’t; some kids felt heard, some didn’t. Some kids like working alone and others like working in a group. What’s clear to me, however, is that collaboration is pretty much a skill that needs to be intentionally developed.

On thing I wonder is how this activity would have played out if it had been a group of kids who actually knew each other. If you’re interested here is the full lesson plan.  Let me know how it goes!


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 also delights in creating rich environments for math art making in which children and adults can explore, make, play, and talk math based on their own questions and inclinations.

“What I’ve Learned (so far) About Teaching and Learning (Mathematics) in Dance Class”

“It’s hard to put your finger on the cause of a slow-burning problem. One day, you feel lucky to be paid to do something you love and the next, you’ve forgotten why you loved it in the first place. It can be even harder to put your finger on a solution. I turned to dance.”
–Ilona Vashchyshyn in her post “This one’s about dance (and burn out)”

Among many other things, Ilona is a secondary teacher in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and co-editor of the Saskatchewan Mathematics Teachers’ Society’s monthly periodical, The Variable. I have had the honor being interviewed by Ilona in which she heard all about my work. She posted a gorgeous, forthright story on her blog recently where I got to know more about her. In particular, I want to share her reflection on what she learned about teaching, learning, and mathematics during dance class (bolding mine)but I also encourage you to read her entire post.

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What I’ve learned (so far) about teaching and learning (mathematics) in dance class, by Ilona Vashchyshyn:

Don’t underestimate the importance of routine.

Almost without fail, dance instructors begin class with a warm-up routine that engage dancers’ bodies and minds in preparation for the work ahead. At HDC (Harbour Dance Centre), most instructors kept the warm-up routine more-or-less similar from one day to the next, although new movements might be added (and some left behind) as the class gained proficiency. E.g., in ballet, a barre exercise might be repeated but with new arm movements, or with a relevé balance to finish. Of course, warm-ups are particularly important in dance because they help to prevent injury, but I found that having a common thread from class to class was valuable in other ways: notably, it gave me repeated opportunities to learn and improve the movements / pathways / exercises which, in turn, gave me the opportunity to develop my confidence as a dancer. Seeing my improvement from day to day encouraged me to continue, and experiencing small successes at the start of class offset the occasional frustration of learning new movements and combinations later on in the lesson. Not to mention, slowing down to practice movements in isolation meant that I could perform them with more ease and fluidity when it came to using them in choreography or in improvisation.

Dance is not about [learning] the choreography.

Early in the week, one of my instructors at HDC cut the music just before we began our routine to say: “Stop. Why are you here? If music is playing in dance class, you dance.” And he insisted that we did, even if it felt awkward at first. Later, referring to a complicated move: “Listen, I’m not gonna teach you that shit. You can learn it on the internet. This is dance class.”

More than any dance instructor I’ve ever had, he emphasized that dance isn’t about the choreography. Choreography, which is a sequence of memorized movements, will be quickly forgotten. A more valuable outcome of dance class is increased confidence and joy in responding with movement to music. Of course, an additional benefit of dance lessons is picking up new steps or pathways, but the value of these is not that you can perform them in a specific sequence, but rather that you can go on to combine and remix them in endless ways, in addition to creating your own. In fact, most of the dance instructors regularly set aside time during class for improvisation – even in ballet, which is generally regarded as the most rigid of the dance styles.

The connection to math class, I think, almost goes without saying: formulas, procedures, algorithms are our version of choreography. Of course, it can be fun to learn and execute the moves. There’s a great sense of accomplishment in accurately performing a complicated routine. But the main outcome of math class shouldn’t be a memorized sequence of steps; more important, I think, is increased confidence and persistence when facing new problems (the analogue of improvisation, or developing your own routine), maybe with a few more tools to tackle them.

Note that I don’t feel that there is a clash between routine (c.f. above), choreography, and improvisation – all have their place and their value. All parts of the elephant, as they say. Lest I stretch the metaphor past its usefulness, I will stop here, but the idea of dancing as problem solving (and problem solving as dancing) is something I’d really like to keep exploring.

A teacher learns.

A dance studio can be a prime location to study how great teachers differentiate and adapt instruction to meet their students’ needs. Especially in adult beginner dance classes, students tend to be very diverse in their abilities and previous experiences. While some really are starting from scratch, many are dancers returning after a long break, and still others are trying a new style but have extensive experience in another. At HDC it was instructive to watch how teachers adapted their plans for the week as they learned more about their students, as well as how they provided options in the moment for dancers with different levels of experience (“for now, just focus on the feet,” or “try lifting your hands off the bar if you’d like a challenge”).

On the flip side, the experience of being a student again was also invaluable. As teachers, we know that the struggle of learning something for the first time can be quickly forgotten, replaced by the illusion that it was easy all along. Forgetting is all the more likely when you teach the same course semester after semester, year after year. And maybe the quickest way to dismantle this illusion is to put on a pair of ballet slippers and a leotard and step into a mirrored room full of strangers who all seem to know what they’re doing while you’re still struggling to remember the difference between a frappé and a fondu and to balance with both feet on the ground. Even with the most encouraging of teachers, I sometimes found myself afraid to ask for help, hiding in the back when I felt lost, and even fighting the urge to escape to the bathroom when I started to get overwhelmed. Pushing through the frustration of just not getting it and the fear that I just never will, especially when it feels like everyone else does, can take tremendous effort. And a teacher who – in addition to providing focused feedback – takes time to remind the class that it’s okay to feel lost sometimes, that being on the verge of this is too hard is just where you’re supposed to be, can make all the difference between choosing to stay home tomorrow and showing up to try again.

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Malke here again. More than anything I’d like to encourage you to think about whole- body #movingmath (whether dance or non-dance based) as a process of coming to understand not just the math but the process by which we come to know math, a topic that to many people, seems foreign and inaccessible.  Using the whole body in math class teaches us to persevere. Engaging our learners’ bodies in math class can help this process and as well as help build a community of learners. There are lots of resources on this blog for getting started. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have questions!


Malke Rosenfeld is a percussive dance teaching artist, Heinemann 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.You can find out more about her work at malkerosenfeld.com,  on Twitter,  Instagram, or Facebook.

Prepare to be Inspired! New Math & Dance Resources from a Canadian School Board to Help Guide Your Way

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During the fall and winter of the 2017-18 school year teachers and students in the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (KPRDSB), Ontario, Canada took the plunge. Using Math on the Move: Engaging Students in Whole Body Learning they bravely began the process of bringing math and dance together into the same learning context. Mary Walker Hope, who spearheaded the process, invited me to observe and celebrate the final presentations of children in grades one through eight. During my video chat observations I was incredibly inspired to see how the process laid out in Chapters 4 & 5 of Math on the Move had supported both children and teachers alike.

At the very end of their math and dance project Mary created three individual e-books recounting their work, with a special emphasis on the process. She writes:

Through integrating math and the arts, we engaged our students as inquirers, collaborators, creators, problem solvers, artists, dancers and mathematicians.

We began our journey from a creatively curious stance and with humility. We inquired, persevered, and solved. We learned how to teach math through dance and dance through math. We discovered through our collaborative inquiry that math, dance, language, music, and art are as interconnected as the processes we use to understand, solve, and create.

These three e-books are divided by grade band and FULL of documentation of their math/dance making process from start to finish including:

  • Introductory activities
  • Insights and encouragement for teachers around negotiating math and dance in the classroom at the same time
  • Details about what each step of the process looks like in each grade band
  • Lots of videos illustrating a variety of student work
  • Step-by-step examples of the making process
  • Examples of what they did to apply, extend, reflect, and assess the math/dance work
  • Finally, these e-books provide an overall positive and encouraging message for teachers who might be ready to jump in to #movingmath!

These are real kids and real teachers making gorgeous math and dance.  YOU CAN TOO!

The books are linked below. You might also be interested in another post on this blog inspired by the Canadian crew called “Why Math in your FEET?” which provides an explanation of percussive dance and the different kinds of sounds you can make with your feet while dancing.


Malke Rosenfeld is a percussive dance teaching artist, Heinemann 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.You can find out more about her work at malkerosenfeld.com,  on Twitter,  Instagram, or Facebook.

A Powerful Tool for Both Learners & Teachers

 

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Larry Ferlazzo invited me to answer this question on his Ed Week Teacher blog: “What is an instructional strategy and/or teaching concept that you think is under-used/under-appreciated in the classroom that you think should be practiced more widely?”  I am sharing my response here but do check out the other answers!


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Every day students of all ages come to school with a powerful tool for mathematical reasoning but rarely get the opportunity to harness its full potential. When this tool, our students’ own bodies, are used, the activity is typically relegated to acts of memorization that lead no further than the next test. In contrast, taking math off the page and into the spatial, embodied realm of the whole, moving body has great potential to open up new avenues for understanding. Here are some examples of how a whole body, #movingmath approach can open up new opportunities for learning in a variety of grades and settings:

  1. Changing the scale:  When you change the scale of the math you are already exploring in your classroom you provide learners with the opportunity to get to know math from a completely new and novel perspective. Whether it’s exploring  number patterns on a scaled-up hundred chart, physically experiencing magnitude, scale, distance, and direction on an open body-scale number line, or noticing new things about polygons using lengths of knotted rope, learners collaborate, discuss, evaluate, reflect upon, record their activity, and start to connect it to other experiences in which they encounter and use these ideas. Seeing connections develops intuition,” Dan McQuillan at the University of Norwich tweeted recently. “Proofs are great; just like climbing trees, but the ability to swing from tree to tree is also great.”CH3P26
  2. Reasoning in action: During a Proving Center lesson Kindergarten students were asked to work in teams of four or five to find the center of an 11- cell structure, which looks a bit like a ladder.  Children were able to find the “center” of the object with their bodies rather quickly but their biggest challenge was to justify their physical reasoning. Lana Pavlova, an elementary teacher from Calgary, Canada told me that some of her students’ reasoning included “Because five is the same as five”, “Because these two sides are equal”, “Because it is exactly the half”.  Another student said that “not all numbers have the middle, six doesn’t. One has the middle and it’s one.” Lana told me, “I was very impressed by the kids’ reasoning. I also want to highlight how important the initial ‘explore’ stage is [and that] the movement IS the reasoning tool.”Fairhill ladder
  3. A reason to persevere: Lisa Ormsbee, a P.E. teacher at Fairhill School in Dallas,TX spent three weeks this past June running an enrichment program using movement and rhythm to explore and deepen enjoyment and understanding of math with intermediate students, many of whom exhibited what she called “math reluctance.” One of her main activities was Math in Your Feet  which requires precise physical/spatial reasoning around rotations,  categories of pattern properties, unitzing, complex patterning, equivalence, and perseverance to create original foot-based patterns. Lisa told me, “The kids were ALL so engaged in this activity! It was extremely hard for a couple of students, but because they were working with a partner they were more interested in “sticking in there” where it was uncomfortable until they got it!”rb-5a
  4. Cognition is embodied: “Conceptualising the body, in mathematics, as a dynamic cognitive system enables students and teachers’ physical, visual, verbal, written, mental, and (in)formal activity to be taken not simply as representations  of abstract spatial concepts but…as corporeal and contextually grounded forms of cognition.” [Spatial Reasoning in the Early Years, Davis et al. 2015]

Overall, no math concept can be understood completely in one representation or modality.  Similarly, not all math can be explored with the body. Whole-body math may be a novel approach for many but it’s also clear that it can be a powerful tool for both learners and teachers.


Malke Rosenfeld is a dance teaching artist, author, editor, math explorer, and presenter coverwhose interests focus on the learning that happens at the intersection of math and the moving body. She also delights in creating rich environments in which children and adults can explore, make, play, and talk math based on their own questions and inclinations. Her book Math on the Move: Engaging Students in Whole Body Learning,  was published by Heinemann in 2016.

Leaving Room for Question Asking

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NOTE: This post was originally published at my other blog  April 15, 2017.

How much of the math you do in your classroom is based on someone else’s questions? Someone far away from your classroom? Someone other than your students? Even with specter of standardized tests looming like dark, heavy clouds, how can we leave room for the most important part of learning: question asking?

“So many of the things that we do in math education — and maybe more generally in education — are giving students answers to questions that they would never think of asking. By definition, that’s what it is to be boring. If you’re sitting at a bar and someone’s telling you stuff that you’re not interested in and you would never think of asking about — what is more boring than that? That seems to be the model of our educational system: ‘Here’s the formula for the cosine of the double angle.’ ‘Well, I don’t care about that.’” —Steven Strogatz

The first time I experimented with building scaled-up geometric forms I was homeschooling my then-seven-year-old. At the time she was a “resistant” learner which basically meant she was happiest exploring her own questions, and, over a couple years of homeschooling I realized my best strategy was to influence the child by way of my own curiosities and the way I structured the environment, leaving out provocations to be discovered and, if of interest, investigated.  This was also a time when I was deep into finding answers for my own question “What is math?” and I was heavy into an investigation into Platonic Solids. I had never been a builder as a child, but I had a question and it needed to be answered.

Back in April, on Twitter, I had a conversation with Lana, a third grade teacher who is reading Math on the Move and who has been wondering about how how to “scale up” her students’ mathematical activity.  Specifically she’s been curious about my recent work with building body-scale polyhedra.  Body- or moving-scale means that the whole body/person is engaged in problem solving and mathematical thinking to investigate a mathematical challenge or project of some kind. I think Telanna’s question could be anybody’s question who is wondering how we can do math off the page.

My answer focused on how I structure a making activity and the learning environment in a way that motivates learners to collaborate and ask new questions in response to the activity in an intrinsic way.

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It’s in the process of making something with the freedom to try things out and see where it gets you that creates new questions.

It’s these questions, arising in the moments when they’re needed, born of collaboration,   that help learners notice structure and pattern and purpose in what they’re doing. From there we can move to the more formal learning. But, like my daughter, I think kids in general are most motivated when they are provided agency by the adults in their lives. Their work may not be technically perfect, but they are in the best part of learning (to me, anyhow): inside the flow of an investigation filled with their wonderings.

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To bring kids to math we need to leave room for their own questions.

What happens next? There are more questions to be asked about this kind of approach. I have  my answers and am happy to share them. But I’d love to hear your questions first!


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.You can find out more about her work at malkerosenfeld.com,  on Twitter,  Instagram, or Facebook.

Notes from a #movingmath Summer Classroom

I am so excited to share the work of Lisa Ormsbee at Fairhill School in Dallas, Texas  who has spent the past two weeks running a math and movement summer enrichment camp using resources from Math on the Move, the Move with Math in May lesson plans, a rhythm-based exercise program called Drumfit, and a lot of other great ideas she pulled together to meet the needs of her students through rhythm and movement. She has ten students with most of the students “learning different” (e.g. dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, mild autism, and selective mutism)  not all of them fans of math, what she described as a “general math reluctance.”

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I was thrilled to get her wonderful email updates on the first and second week of programming which showed just how much of an impact a #movingmath approach can have for all learners. I especially love the progression Lisa created to gently lead reluctant movers (and math-ers) into what has become enthusiastic engagement! Here’s some of what Lisa shared with me:

Monday:  I did a couple of ice breaker activities which involved moving around and were non-threatening (meaning no one HAD to talk in front of the  group).  I started by challenging them to put THEMSELVES into patterns during this warm up time – it was totally spontaneous but it was fun for them. We also got oriented to our class space.  I had removed all the desks and chairs and had the [Math in Your Feet] squares taped on the floor.  They had to adjust to the idea that we weren’t going to sit in desks. I also introduced Drumfit on this day and used that activity time to introduce “follow me” patterns with the drumming rhythms. These kids are fairly reluctant to move around and have pretty low physical literacy and body confidence so I wanted to be sure to take the introduction of the program slowly.  They did extremely well with the movement during the icebreakers!  The drumming is growing on them but took several days for them to feel confident and, some still do not, but I’m not pushing them in that area as it’s a “fun” time. It’s such a good fit with patterns and using your body to make them though! 

Tuesday: We did the pattern game sitting in a circle that you outline in one of your lessons [Clap Hands: A Body-Rhythm Pattern Game].  This was HARD for some of them!  They were all engaged in it though.  We could certainly do this again!  Then we went to our gym space and used the ladders to prove the center [Proving Center lesson] in teams and also to create patterns as a team using bodies and any other items they wanted to use. They were told to be as creative as they wanted with their repeatable pattern. We discussed symmetry here too.  I used my purple circle discs to have them create a game using their ladders also. The game had to have some “math” in it. It was so very, very interesting to watch them do all of this!! We discussed a lot after that and talked about what they had done and how they had thought of their games and patterns.

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After one more day of getting kids used to moving and thinking about math at the same Just turns postertime Lisa introduced the first step in the  Math in Your Feet “pattern/partner/dance process.”  Lisa wrote:

It was slow and I didn’t hurry them.  It took a while to orient them to the squares, talk about sameness (congruence), and review the movement variables. We also took a LONG time talking about the turns. That’s all we got done but I told them we’d be making a pattern with our partner the next day and we’d be concerned with precision and sameness.

On Friday they started working with their partners on creating their 4-beat patterns.

The kids were ALL so engaged in this activity!  I couldn’t believe it.  They had some trouble with cooperation and with identifying sameness. It was extremely hard for a couple of students but because they were working with a partner they were more interested in “sticking in there” where it was uncomfortable until they got it right!  AWESOME!!  I felt like it was a successful day and I can’t wait to do more. 

Next week, I want to have them write a little bit about their patterns and make a drawing etc. like you do in the book.  I also want to let them do this part again then work on combining and transforming.  When we get to the mirroring piece we will have to go pretty slowly I’m guessing. 

During the second week of summer school Lisa did the mirroring/reflection lessons and was also able to extend and connect the physical work by having them having them map their patterns and then read/decode each other’s pattern maps.

Once I added music to the activity they had a blast!  I feel we were all inspired by the Math in Your Feet program to be open to new ways to learn through movement. I was so caught up in our activities I didn’t get any pictures!

But she did eventually get some videos! Here are a couple showing the children’s awesome physical thinking around reflection. One person is keeping their rights and lefts the same as they originally designed the pattern, and the other person is dancing the pattern with opposite lefts and rights. And this is all on top of some tricky rotations. A mighty feat!

Lisa says: I hope [this account] helps others dive into the program because my kids really engaged with it and I am 100% sure that they would not have been so engaged had I chosen a more traditional program for the summer enrichment. I really hope this will help them with their understanding of math and also with their movement confidence and honestly, their joy of moving! I’ll be the P.E. teacher here next year – although I must say this might actually make me a fan of math too. Yay!

Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your work with us!


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.

When “The Movement IS the Reasoning Tool”

 

ch3p26What does it look and sound like when kids use their whole bodies during a math lesson? What happens prior to, during, and after the activity? Luckily Deb Torrance and Lana Pavolova have provided us with some stellar documentation so we can get a closer look at what happens when we give kids a mathematical challenge to explore with their whole bodies.

Let’s start with this video in which children work collaboratively to explore a body scale 25-cell ladder-like structure in pursuit of proving how they know they’ve found its center. Although teams may solve the initial challenge rather quickly, the core mathematical experience is in using space, structure, and their bodies as tools for making sense of the challenge as they work to prove that they have found the right location.

These are first graders; Deb Torrance, their wellness teacher, and their classroom teacher have teamed up to run the lesson.

What do you notice about what the children are doing?



Here is the first key aspect of a moving math activity — it moves, but in a very focused manner and it also inspires on-topic conversations. Deb reported that “During four minutes of ‘free explore’ time with the ladders I was amazed at the different ways children were attempting to cross the structure! As the wellness teacher, it always excites me to see students moving and they were certainly doing that; hopping patterns, cartwheels, keeping hands in boxes, crawling… Students were then pulled to the center of the gym to discuss their thoughts and ideas about the ladders. The math vocabulary that was already being discussed [with peers in the context of the physical exploration] was amazing (symmetrical, middle. center, odd/even…).”

The role of the adults during the exploration phase of a moving math lesson is to keep tabs on the activity and check in occasionally with the learners about what they’re thinking or wondering. Teachers also play a role when it’s time for teams share out to the whole class; in this lesson the sharing would be focused on the strategies teams used and how they knew they had found the center of the space.

Lana Pavlova did the same Proving Center lesson with a group of kindergarten students and an 11-cell ladder. She reports that “proving was where the fun started. Many students could find the middle and count five squares on each side but weren’t sure how to explain why five and five was the middle but four and six squares was not. So, a lot of conversations revolved around trying to prove it and showing with their bodies what’s going on.”

Although the kindergarten kids were in groups, they mostly worked individually. Some of their reasoning included “because five is the same as five”, “because these two sides are equal”, “because it is exactly the half”. Some students were convinced that the middle was on the line, so they counted both lines and squares; if you stand in the middle “there will be six lines on each side”. One student said that “not all numbers have the middle, six doesn’t. One has the middle and it’s one.”

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When the kindergarten students went back to their classroom they used whiteboards to explain what they did during the moving portion of the lesson. Lana says, “The physical activity helped [most of] them to remember that there were five squares on each side. One student drew a “9 frame” and wrote the number five on each side. As he was explaining it to me, he noticed he had counted it incorrectly and went back to change his number to four on each side. He shared how he was in the middle because there was the “same on both sides.” 


Lana’s final thoughts after running this lesson get right to the core of what what #movingmath is and can do. “I was very impressed by the kids’ reasoning. I also want to highlight how important the initial ‘explore’ stage is; the movement IS the reasoning tool.”

No math concept can be understood completely in one representation or modality. Similarly, not all math can be explored with the body. Whole-body math may be a novel approach but it’s also clear that it can be a powerful tool for both learners and teachers.

You can find the Proving Center lesson plan as well as three other moving math lessons for K-12 learners here.  When you try it out please consider sharing  a picture, video, or blog post to Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #movingmath.


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 also delights in creating rich environments for math art making in which children and adults can explore, make, play, and talk math based on their own questions and inclinations.

Move with Math in May: Four #movingmath Lessons

UPDATE, September 2017: This post was originally celebrating a special nearing-the-end-of-the-school-year event titled “Move with Math in May. The event featured four math-and-movement lesson plans to chose from. The goal was an opportunity to try out whole-body math in a low-key way to get a sense of what it’s all about…but you can use these lesson plans any time you want! Below you’ll find overviews of and links to each lesson. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch on Twitter or via the contact form. Most importantly, HAVE FUN!!

 

MOTM Proving Center Lesson 1 HeaderIn this activity, children work collaboratively in teams of three to five (four being an optimal number) to determine the center of a taped ladder-like structure on the floor. Although teams may solve the initial challenge rather quickly, the core mathematical experience is in using space and their bodies as tools for making sense of the challenge as they work to prove that they have found the right location. GO TO THE LESSON


MOTM Rope Polygons Lesson 2 HeaderIn this activity, created in collaboration with Max Ray-Riek from the Math Forum at NCTM, students work collaboratively in teams of three to five to investigate and construct polygons with their bodies and a twelve-foot knotted rope. Although this lesson attends to regular polygons, the activity has been extended to address learning goals for middle and high school students.  GO TO THE LESSON


MOTM Clap Hands Lesson 3 HeaderClapping games are a part of the natural mathematics of childhood; they are also filled with pattern, spatial reasoning, and rhythm.  This activity, which can be different every time you play, was developed by John Golden (@mathhombre) with a class of preservice teachers.  GO TO THE LESSON


MOTM MIYF Lesson 4 HeaderHave you ever wondered what Math in Your Feet would look and sound like in your classroom? Here is a game-based version of this work, developed in collaboration with wellness teacher Deb Torrance (@Mrs_Torrance), as a way for you to see what math and dance can look like when both are happening at the same time. GO TO THE LESSON.

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing how things go!


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.

 

 

Learning Math by Ear: The Role of Language in a Moving Classroom

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At first glance, this article about the value of reading aloud to older kids would not seem to connect to math learning. But, to me it does.  Here’s the piece that really stood out:

“The first reason to read aloud to older kids is to consider the fact that a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until about the eighth grade,” said Trelease [a Boston-based journalist, who turned his passion for reading aloud to his children into The Read-Aloud Handbook in 1979], referring to a 1984 study performed by Dr. Thomas G. Sticht showing that kids can understand books that are too hard to decode themselves if they are read aloud. “You have to hear it before you can speak it, and you have to speak it before you can read it. Reading at this level happens through the ear.”

Did you catch that? “You have to hear it before you can speak it, and you have to speak it before you can read it.”

I made a similar point while working with teachers and teaching artists in Minnesota in 2013 when participants noticed how the math language was woven naturally and seamlessly into our dance work. This vocabulary development, I said, was initially an attempt to help kids pay closer attention to the details of what they were doing while they created their dance patterns. I noticed that they became much better creators when they had the right words to help them identify their movement choices.

recent brain study focused on how the motor cortex contributes to language comprehension:
“Comprehension of a word’s meaning involves not only the ‘classic’ language brain centres but also the cortical regions responsible for the control of body muscles, such as hand movements.”
To me this study explains part of why a “moving math” approach that includes a focus on math language used in context can open up new pathways for our learners [bolding emphasis mine]:

“An alternative is offered by an embodied or distributed view suggesting that the brain areas encoding the meaning of a word include both the areas specialised for representing linguistic information, such as the word’s acoustic form, but also those brain areas that are responsible for the control of the corresponding perception or action. On this account, in order to fully comprehend the meaning of the word ‘throw’, the brain needs to activate the cortical areas related to hand movement control. The representation of the word’s meaning is, therefore, ‘distributed’ across several brain areas, some of which reflect experiential or physical aspects of its meaning.”

 My take away from the study overview is this:

  1. Our whole bodies are just that: whole systems working in an fascinating and astoundingly connected ways.
  2. “Knowing” something, especially the ideas and concepts on the action side of math (transform, rotate, reflect, compose,  sequence, combine, etc) is strengthened by the partnership between mathematical language and physical experience.

In Math in Your Feet we start by moving to get a sense of the new (non-verbal) movement vocabulary in our bodies. At the same time we say together, as a group and out loud, the words that best match our movement. Sometimes we also pay attention to the words’  written forms on the board so all three modalities of the idea are clear to us.  When learners are more confident with their dancing they are asked to observe others’ work and choose the the specific  words that describe the attributes/properties of the moving patterns. There are over 40 video examples of this in action in Math on the Move.

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In addition to being able to parse our patterns, we use tons of other math terminology while we choreograph in conversations with our teammates and in whole group discussions.  This approach allows learners to fully grasp the real meaning and application of these ideas which, ultimately, allows them to write and talk confidently about their experiences making math and dance at the same time. Teachers consistently notice an increase of ‘math talk’ in their classrooms when children get up to explore math ideas with their whole bodies. As in, “I couldn’t believe how much math vocabulary they were using!”

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Math is a language but it’s not just about terminology, it’s about what those words MEAN.  To do this, learners need to play with mathematical ideas, notice and talk about patterns and structure, sort and compare, and share reasoning about and understanding of mathematical relationships.

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As such, language, in partnership with the body is our tool for thinking mathematically when we are up out of our seats and moving during math time.  Ideally, this language is facilitated by an adult through conversation, play and exploration, all before bringing it to the page to explore the ideas in a different modes and contexts.


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.

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

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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.