Saturday, April 13, 2013

Time to Learn

This spring I've been doing a lot of the one-visit, 45-minute version of the Math in Your Feet program.  I was a little proud of myself when I figured out, finally, how to work with the time constraint and make this a worthwhile experience. In a single workshop the kids have enough time to learn and practice four, 4-beat percussive dance patterns (instead of choreographing their own, which is at the heart of the full program).  They also have some exposure to how those patterns are constructed, and get to explore the idea of sameness/unison/congruence.

The problem is that, although they can reproduce/dance the patterns pretty well considering the short amount of time we have, they don't have enough time and experience to build the vocabulary they need to analyze the patterns. To build familiarity you need a chance to enact your own agency on the process.  That is why having them make up their own dance steps is so important.  Not only is it one of my favorite things about my art form but, also, by the end of the process they know their pattern really well -- because they made it and because they had to spend a lot of time talking about it while they collaborate with their partner. Doing and talking lead to understanding, not only of the percussive dance genre but of the nature of patterns, how they are built, and how they are different or similar or the same as other patterns in the room.

Being able to discern whether a two-person team is dancing 'the same' or 'almost the same' and give reasons why is dependent on understanding the aesthetic and vocabulary of the Jump Patterns' variables/attributes. On top of all that they need to analyze the four beats/moves in quick succession.  There's always a point during the course of a one-time workshop where I am reminded, yet again, about the complexity of this whole endeavor we call 'learning math and dance at the same time'.

I still think the one-shot-deal is better than no Math in Your Feet at all.  Almost every workshop this spring has been filled with kids who willingly jump up and fully engage in the entire 45 minutes with smiles and excitement.  Wonderfully, even though I generally tell them to pick just one pattern to work with, some kids end up rearranging the patterns or combining them into longer patterns.  I love it when this happens. Kids instinctively know what to do with the Jump Patterns tool and it's great they are so inspired to make their own work even within the constraints of 45 minutes.

But, I have to say it, their thinking and analysis are much more sophisticated when they have multiple days to experiment and practice and be in the process; giving them more time gives them a chance to fully understand how those patterns are built. When they have some space and time to tinker, ask questions, have little disagreements, find common ground, be confused, etc. they become better dancers, choreographers and mathematicians.

This kind of learning is sometimes seen as supplemental or enriching to the 'real' learning that happens on paper or at the desk.  I respectfully disagree.  It may look different from what we know as 'learning in school' but, honestly, there are many ways to learn and even more ways to harness our children's innate humanity and inclinations to explore, create, build, think, engage, and contribute to their world.  It's worth the effort, and the time, to figure out how to do this. 

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