Friday, August 1, 2014

New Questions at #TMC14

Try as I might to focus this post on other things, I think I first need to address the fact that up until TMC14 I considered myself a math outsider.  I've been working at the intersection of math, dance and learning for a decade now. Quite truthfully it's been a lonely road. My initial collaboration with an elementary math specialist was the foundation and the frame for Math in Your Feet, but I essentially was in charge of every other detail. For over six years I worked in individual classrooms for a week at a time, experimenting, revising, questioning my motives.  The past three years have included some really amazing, deep collaborations with some incredible math educators. But up to now none of this reality has changed my sense of being on the outside of math world looking in.


At Twitter Math Camp I had the opportunity to co-lead a morning session on Embodied Mathematics. And I was lucky enough to have lots of people interact with both Math in Your Feet and other versions of body-scale math learning after hours.

In between all that I got to be a learner. I learned from the questions people had after engaging in MiYF lessons. And, maybe because I have been thinking about number lines for a while, I had new questions during Steve Leinwand's keynote at TMC14 when he asked: What is 5 + -9? and then showed us a number line.

I wondered why we would have to start at zero. I wondered what a number line is really for. I asked myself, why would we use it at body-scale just to get an answer if we could do that easily on paper? Why is the number line generally presented horizontal to the learner? [Then Steve showed the elevator version.] Why couldn't it be on the diagonal? What are the assumptions about the learning that can happen on number lines?

Most importantly, half way through Michael Pershan's afternoon session on the complex plane, when I had reached my limit with that math, I asked myself one final question:

What would I learn if I tried Steve's equation at different starting points other than zero?

I tried it and it was FUN to ask that question. I saw a pattern but didn't understand what I was looking at. Turns out I didn't have to figure this out on my own. Turns out I had an ally in the pursuit of understanding the meaningful use of body-scale number lines. Turns out Max Ray keeps a roll of tape in his bag for every classroom visit. My brother from another mother.

Blue tape can change your relationship to the space you're in. And when you put down blue tape and start asking questions, other people show up in a curious state of mind.

So we put down blue tape and along came Christopher with a gleam in his eye. And then we had a crowd and everyone was engaged in questions about working on a body-scale number line.

Which way should we face? What were our assumptions about its use? If we're going to use this tool at body-scale, why should we use it the same way we do on paper? What new insights might we have using the constraints of the body and the base metaphors created by living and moving in a body through space? Why is Malke asking so many questions!?


The next day, during Dan Meyer's keynote about who makes up the #MTBoS and #TMC14 I turned to Kate Nowak who was sitting beside me and said, "I'm not really a part of this though." And then immediately gave myself a huge mental kick in the butt. WHY!? Why would I say that after a day and a half of some amazing interactions with some amazing, inspiring math educators who obviously all saw me as part of the group with something to offer math learning?

In the end there were two experiences I had at TMC14 that have inspired me to revise my outsider narrative:

1. I had lots of new questions related to conceptualizing a body-scale investigation of number lines. If I am engaging in mathematical conversations and debates, I am a math person.

2. At TMC people engaged with my math/dance work and had new questions and insights of their own. Creating an environment for asking new math questions makes me a math person, even if (especially if?) it's in the unfamiliar mode of embodied mathematics.

I am a math person. I am a dancer. My questions and inquiry reside at the overlap of those territories. I can be a math person and a dance person at the same time!


On the LONG, LONG, LONG drive home from Jenks, OK I came up with some new questions for myself.

How can I keep the energy of inquiry and collaboration going all through the year?

How can I generalize the Math in Your Feet approach to body-scale math learning so it's useful in many different kinds of body/movement/math activities?

What's next!?

1 comment:

  1. As I was reading this, I was reminded of the design problem I have. How can we create the feeling of propinquity and thus trust in people who take online courses? We need to do so while keeping the diversity. How can we focus on similarities over differences?


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


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