Friday, December 30, 2011

Teaching Math in Your Feet...Without Me!

The program Math in Your Feet was developed as a five-day artist-based residency, led by me, the percussive dancer.  I created the program in collaboration with Jane Cooney, an elementary math specialist in Indianapolis, IN.  I hammered out the dance/math integration and dance class activities through sheer repetition, trial, and error in classroom after classroom.  In 2006 I was lucky enough to also have the opportunity to develop a teacher workshop through association with the Kennedy Center and Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University.  I've been doing both student residencies and teacher workshops ever since. 

Meg Mahoney, an elementary dance specialist in Seattle, read the article I wrote about the development of Jump Patterns as a teaching tool in my program Math in Your Feet (published in the Teaching Artist Journal, April 2011).  As a big fan of her work I was thrilled when she told me she was going to try it out with her own fourth and fifth grade students!  Even more amazing, she has never seen the program in person or on video.  True, she is a fabulous dance teacher, having worked for fifteen years in an academic setting, but still, it take a lot of guts to commit six weeks of your school year to something brand new like this. 

In a recent post on her blog, Meg says:
The article unwraps the dance/math residencies Malke Rosenfeld teaches in public schools. The fact that she shares her methodologies with classroom teachers for use in the classroom lit a spark for me. Even without being a step dancer myself, maybe I could lead my dance students through the jump pattern curriculum!
Apparently she was quite successful!  Read on...
I’m about to begin Week 5 of 6, finishing the jump patterns with my second set of 4th & 5th graders (six lessons per group), and we’re all enjoying it. Malke’s outline provided lots of material to work with, and I’ve worked the pacing & focus of instruction for each lesson to fit my ELL learners & my circumstance. The movement variables are broken into malleable chunks, and we’ve explored the math-related concepts of precision, congruency, reflection, and turn symmetry, with students choreographing patterns in teams of 2 and 3. In addition to integrating dance & math, there’s a problem-solving (choreography) component that parallels the "workshop/conferencing” structure that my students are familiar with through Writers Workshop, allowing me time to confer with & jump-start individual students. In addition, there’s a spatial arrangement that supports classroom management (personal dance spaces for each team — wow, what a concept!). Add in some dance videos to “mentor” the kids in their choreographic process & journaling questions to provide feedback on what students are learning, and it’s no wonder we’re all engaged!
A perfect Math in Your Feet moment, courtesy of Meg's blog.  These boys are in the middle of a 270 degree turn.  Nice!
My first groups of 4th & 5th graders finished the unit before the holiday break, with some of them performing their patterns, both congruently & in mirror symmetry. They nailed the precision steps they’d created, even without the support of their personal dance spaces, and their peer audience was able to talk about what they were seeing with insight and new vocabulary. What a pleasure to watch…
In this description of how how she used the Math in Your Feet curriculum, Meg shows us all that the program is flexible enough to be adapted by teachers in a number of key ways:

- Easily reproducible outside the artist-residency setting 
- Engages and inspires both learners and teachers to learn and grow in exciting new ways
- Creates opportunity for new insights into topics and practices in both math and dance
- Encourages fluency with new math and dance vocabulary, in context
- Allows exploration of, and play with, math concepts in a dynamic, physical, choreographic process
- Adaptable to ELL learners
- Adaptable to the particular circumstances/expectations of a school and/or district

I'm continuing to work away at producing the Math in Your Feet curriculum guide and instructional DVD so that any elementary classroom teacher, or PE, dance or music specialist can reproduce the same energy and engagement that an artist-based residency provides.  In a way, the Math in Your Feet program is poised to be more effective in this new form because, as a teaching artist, I am just a short-term visitor who really knows very little about the individual learning needs and goals of each student, let alone the specific circumstances and culture of individual schools and districts.

Based on Meg's success, and the successes of teachers who have taken my professional development workshops to learn more in-depth about the methods and content of this program, it is not hard to imagine hundreds, maybe thousands, more children jumping (and sliding, stepping, turning, hopping...) their way through math class led by their very own teachers!

1 comment:

  1. Now that's a vision -- kids jumping into math all over the place! I can't wait to see your guide & instructional DVD, but I'm sure nothing can replace the experience of your workshops!


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