Thursday, June 30, 2011

To Each its Own: Targeting My Professional Development Workshops

In the last couple months I've had whole bunches of fun presenting professional development workshops in a variety of settings, to a variety of people.  Let's see...math teachers from all over the U.S., PE teachers from across Indiana, classroom teachers from Indianapolis, fellow Teaching Artists from a variety of disciplines, and arts education administrators from Young Audiences affiliates from around the country. 

Each session bore the title 'Math in Your Feet' and was a combination of big picture information and hands-on experience, but that is where the similarity ended and my job got really interesting!

For the classroom teachers I started by focusing on the challenges of using movement in a classroom setting.  As they started to move and experiment with foot-based percussive patterns they became more comfortable and sure in their own movement.  This approach usually leads to a greater willingness to embrace, sometimes for the first time, the possibility of leading their own students in movement-based learning.  To some extent I am also encouraging them to have fun with math, many for the first time.  I consider the 'doing and making' of percussive dance patterns in this program the same as the 'doing and making' of math so, in every teacher workshop I do, I walk them step by step through the intersection where math and dance meet.  We're so used to focusing on the symbolic, static realm of mathematics that we don't always recognize when we see math happening in front of our eyes.  It helps to have a guide.

For the self-identified math teachers at the NCTM annual meeting I also started with a message of 'anyone can lead movement in the classroom and here are some tools' but then quickly moved toward 'here is an opportunity for your students to represent their math understanding in a new way within the kinesthetic realm'.  I also drew their attention to the fact that the processes of solving a problem in both math and dance (choreography) are often similar -- question, understand what tools it might take to answer the question, experiment with ideas, use your resources, find an answer that seems to work, evaluate and then ask more questions. 

The group of 80 or so PE teachers was a new one for me simply because there was not one bit of trepidation or reluctance to get up and move!  Not all of them were comfortable with the idea of dance, at least initially, but they were definitely game.  I was only with them for about an hour, and I couldn't go very deep, so I stuck with active modeling of the bridge between my particular brand of movement with an academic content area.  If I had had more time with them, I would have focused on the  process for moving the dance to the page -- speaking the words that describe aspects of our movement as we move, writing those words down, turning these words into symbols, and graphing foot positions on a coordinate grid.  I did the point that Math in Your Feet can be a collaboration between classroom and specials teachers, just like it is when I lead my residency.  The concrete movement and math activities can be done in PE or music class which then build the bridge to the formal, written, symbolic realm of math back in the regular classroom.

At their conference the arts education administrators were focusing on how to add the A in arts to STEM topics (STEM to STEAM).  I gave a general overview of the program and laid out my process for building the program and integrating the dance with the math.  The most important issue for me is that when you are thinking about integrating any art form with another content area you really need to be honest with yourself and ask 'is it a good fit?'  If the answer is no then it is not worth forcing the issue.  If you think 'maybe' then do a little more work to explore the connections.  In the end, though, the connections need to be more than skin deep.  Just because we count our beats in this program doesn't mean I consider that a good example of what math and dance have in common.  I also gave a similar account of how I combined math and dance to my fellow Teaching Artists.

My favorite moments while teaching teachers are when they ask me questions that show me they are imagining how they will do this work with their own students.  It's similar to house hunting, I suppose.  The minute you start imagining where you're going to put your furniture the realtor knows you might really be serious!  I love hearing all the different ways engaged and caring education professionals imagine tailoring my ideas for their own particular learning environments. 

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