Thursday, October 14, 2010

Building a Bridge

I am not a math teacher. 

I am a traditional percussive dancer (Appalachian style flatfooting and clogging and Canadian step dancing) who has spent a lot of time learning about all the math that relates to percussive dance, with the support and help of master educator and friend Jane Cooney.  I have also spent years figuring out which areas of math make the best fit with my art form.

I am not a math teacher, but I do teach math.

Is this creating some cognitive dissonance for you?  I did for me too.  I had to think about this a lot before I could finally come to peace with that statement. 

How does that actually work?  Well, first that non-math teacher (me) had to work with an interpreter of sorts (Jane).  I told her how I worked with kids, and described my workshops and the focus of my work up to that point in time.  Then she told me all the math connections she saw.  It was that easy.  And, it was that hard, too.  She gave me a huge list.  It took me a whole year, on and off, to figure out where to focus my efforts at integrating the two subjects.   Here is what I came to:

I teach the math that directly relates to the process of making rhythm and patterns with the feet. 

When talking about integration I should first mention that there are a few different models for arts integration out there.  The Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE) has a really effective model, one they've written about in a wonderful book called Renaissance in the Classroom: Arts Integration and Meaningful Learning.  In this model (as I understand it) there is a classroom teacher (the academic content specialist) and an artist (the arts specialist) working together to find an 'elegant fit' between two different content areas (academic and arts based), but taking turns sharing the instructional time.  In my case, I worked with a math specialist (Jane) to build the program but it was my job to bring the dance/music content and the math content together in cohesive way during the instructional time.  Essentially, I was the one to teach the dance, the related math, and the connections between the two.

I am not a math teacher, but I build a bridge to math.

I may be the one who makes the connections between the dance and math clear for the students, but their classroom teachers also have an important role both in the dance workshops and back in the classroom.  In order for the math understanding that emerges during dance class to stick with the students there are two things that need to happen. 

First, the classroom teachers need to be present and observing their students' efforts.  Teachers do not have to dance, but they can still help the kids iron out any rough spots during their creative work.  Teachers are also learning about the connections as the week progresses.  Second, if the math instruction that I am offering is going to have any lasting value, the kinesthetic learning needs to come back to the page. 

And now, I can finally resolve for you this issue of not being a math teacher who is teaching math.  This is how it works:

I identify and illustrate the connections between math and dance through a meaningful creative process.  I use my voice, their dancing, some humor, and lots of chart paper to make this happen.  On any particular day I use the necessary time between bursts of moving and activity to make clear the elements of both subjects that we are using.  The kids see the words/concepts written on the charts, the kids use this terminology while they are dancing and giving each other feedback, and then...

...and then I hand them back to their teacher!  Back in the classroom, the kids open their specially designed workbooks and reflect on their activity and learning through daily journal prompts.  They have a daily word study section to explore their perceptions of the new vocabulary they are learning.  They also find more recognizable 'math problems' on those pages which relate to and extend the math they learned in dance class.  For example, their personal dance spaces are 2'x2' squares.  In their workbook there is a page that asks them to create a scale drawing of their dance space on the page.  I love the relevance of this! 

So, there you have it.  I am not a math teacher, but I am a bridge builder.  Through the process of revealing the connections between two seemingly disparate subjects, I am able to illuminate certain elementary math topics in new and meaningful ways.  Tah dah!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...