Sunday, July 28, 2013


Summer programming came to an end with Fold & Cut Day, and it was one beautiful day, let me tell you.

It was beautiful to watch the sustained concentration. With just a small introduction to the projects, including my own work as inspiration, kids made their choices and got busy.

It was beautiful to find that some kids were using the materials at hand to create and think for themselves outside the project parameters.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Nine Times Luckier

My kid found a dime at the park.  "Mama," she said later, "I'm nine times luckier than if I had found a penny."

"Is it really nine times, or is it ten?" I countered, "because ten times one is ten and a dime is ten pennies."

Still later, "Mama! I found a penny! Now I'm eleven times luckier!"

After lunch at the co-op, "I want to take the long way out so I can see if I can find some more money...I found another dime! Twenty-one times luckier!"

As always, I find this kind of conversational math interesting, mostly because math is for doing and using. This particular concept is an extremely useful one for her as she continues to focus on the size and shape of the universe. We've not done much with scale, but what we did encounter, in the form of the book Ten Times Better this previous January, made a huge difference for both of us.

There was also some discussion about the chances of finding coins when you're actively looking for them, but I don't think either of us understand probability at all yet.  Onward!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fun While it Lasted

The first group (sixth graders) arrived in my classroom after what appeared to be an intense recess. They were, all of them, either drenched in sweat or nursing some kind of injury.

I surveyed the carnage. Turns out half their class was absent this day as well.  I decided that dancing was not in the cards.

"Okay guys," I said, "come sit down near me. Let's talk about our options for today."  I outlined my plan. They had played around with the straws and pipe cleaners last week and loved it.  I had given them a chance to figure out for themselves how the materials worked and they loved the experimentation and play, even going so far as to exclaim "This is better than Xbox!"

Today, I wanted to challenge them.  I showed them a sheet with pretty good but not overly helpful illustrations of the Platonic solids.  I told them they could work individually or in teams - the goal was to see if, as a class, they could make at least one of each solid.  Most chose the octahedron, surprisingly. But by the end of class when the three-person team was finally, after a lot of muddling and helpful argument, finishing up their icosohedron, a bunch of other kids decided they wanted to make one too.

Since class was almost over at that point, it was a race down to the final possible minute.  Because once you make an icosohedron, you also have to spin it!

I love how certain aspects of this solid are made more obvious through...movement!

Later that day the fourth and fifth graders were more up for dancing but they also got a chance to work a second time with the straws and pipe cleaners.  Their particular challenge this time was to build something using an odd number of edges in their starting shape.  This essentially meant three (triangle) and five (pentagon) as the base shapes.  They grumbled. Some made squares anyway.  I reminded them of the challenge.  They grumbled some more but then...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Calling Minnesota Teachers & Artists! (Free Professional Learning Workshop)

I'll be presenting core lessons of the Math in Your Feet program to teachers and teaching artists in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in August.  It's free and if you've been curious about what my work looks and feels like in real life I'd be thrilled if you'd join us!  (Did I mention it's FREE?!)  Below, please find a detailed description of  the event.  See you there?

Please join us for the next Artist to Artist professional development opportunity offered in conjunction with a quarterly Teaching Artist Journal (TAJ) Resource Exchange design team meeting on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, MN.

For this particular professional development opportunity we have our TAJ colleague presenting, Malke Rosenfeld, who is an experienced independent teaching artist and editor/curator of TAJ's ALT/Space. This is a chance for us to widen the Artist to Artist network, deepen our relationship with another TAJ colleague, and to learn from and contribute to the development of Malke's  innovative program. Malke's collaboration with math education specialist Jane Cooney has given her particular insight and experience into the intersection of percussive dance and math and how her art form can be authentically integrated into deep math learning in the classroom (

In addition to Malke, we will also hear from teaching artist Peyton Scott Russell and review compelling student work from an Ordway education program and an interdisciplinary MPS collaborative project. Session details below.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New Video: How I Teach Math & Dance at the Same Time

There's a cool new international math education project on the interwebs.  It's called Mathagogy: Two Minute Math Education. Peps McCrea, the instigator of this project, says on the site: "Our aim is to slowly gather a diverse collection of short ‘approaches to teaching mathematics’ videos from practitioners around the world."

He asked for submissions. Fueled by John Golden's support, I complied, and now my just-under-three-minute video is up and running on the Mathagogy site along with some other rather fantastic videos. (Although, now I need to give John himself a little nudge!)

This has been the year of videos for me, but I think this one is the best quick, visual description and reasoning of my work out there right now. (However, stay tuned for a new article from me, to be published in the Teaching Artist Journal in October, which pushes forward on what it really means to teach and learn in this kind of interdisciplinary setting. Much of my thinking in this video includes excerpts from that piece of writing.)

Feedback and questions on this video are welcome and encouraged!

If you'd like to leave a comment but don't see a way to do it, chances are my blog template is getting in the way.  Try going back to the home page and refreshing your browser.  If that doesn't work and if you still want to get in touch, feel free to e-mail me or contact me via the Math in Your Feet website.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Two More Small Moments of Success

The longer I facilitate interdisciplinary, arts-based learning experiences for children, the more sure I am that success in my temporal, moving classroom is best documented with the observation of small moments that might go unnoticed by standard assessment tools or a final performance. Here are a couple small moment of success from last week.

First Small Moment of Success
Dancers find their center and work from there. In Math in Your Feet, students start their steps with feet together in center. It's a place of control and potential.  I am often heard saying, "Find your center..."

In our dance spaces center is also likened to the intersection of x- and y- axes.  So -- zero, or origin. Where you start, where you move from. I don't spend a lot of time on it because it fades into just part of what we do.  It's something we know and use.

There are a lot of other concepts and vocabulary I bring with me into the classroom and I'm always thrilled when kids start to use new words in the context of their own work.  Thursday, while observing a boy's dance pattern in progress a question came up -- I thought he had five beats instead of four. One too many. He split his feet, one foot on the right side of his square, the other on the left and said, "But this is my zero." It all made sense then - zero is the place you start, 1 is the place you move to.  And he knew this.

I was so proud!

Second Small Moment of Success
In my summer programming and in my family math night I bring out the math craft making supplies.  A couple days ago is was straws and pipe cleaners, a few instructions and away you go.  A certain group of sixth grade boys were really into it.  I overheard one say, at the end of class,

"This is better than Xbox!"  Total win.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Small Moment of (Summer) Success

When the 6th grade boys keep working on their choreography over break time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sneak Peek: My Harvard Workshops

Oh, so excited!  In August I will be attending a Harvard Graduate School of Education professional education program called The Arts and Passion-Driven Learning (focusing on arts integration) on a very generous grant.  It's being led by Steve Seidel and members of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble.  Today I got to pick my workshops, and I thought I'd share which ones I chose.

After looking at the entire selection of arts experience and classroom practice workshops, I decided to go with experiences that can potentially deepen or extend the inquiry in which I've been engaged over the last year or more. Specifically:
Computer Programming as an Expressive and Reflective Medium
Karen Brennan, Assistant Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

What is evoked when you think about mediums for expression – music, text, video? What about computation? In this session, we will explore how code (the instructions that computers follow) can serve as an expressive and reflective medium by engaging in hands-on design activities with interactive media. Using the Scratch programming language, we will create interactive, reflective scrapbooks that document our experiences in the “Arts and Passion-Driven Learning” Institute. No prior experience with designing interactive media is required. Participants are expected to bring their own laptops; please do not bring tablets(iPad, Android, etc.).
I have been reading Seymour Papert's work all winter and spring.  His LOGO program and, by extension, MIT's online visual programming environment Scratch, has had me thinking deeply about constructivism / constructionism and the meaning and purpose of education.  I am also quite interested in how his work and thinking can help frame, support and strengthen the ways we think about and provide arts education.  A pencil and paper kind of gal, I will probably not be very good at Scratch but it will be a great challenge to be out of my comfort zone.
Traditions of the Middle East
Shane Shanahan, Silk Road Ensemble (percussion), Kevork Mourad, Silk Road Ensemble (visual art), Allison Trombley, teaching artist and former Silk Road Project Education Coordinator
How do Middle Eastern traditions in visual art and music mirror and complement one another? What can we learn about a culture through its art forms? Visual artist Kevork Mourad and percussionist Shane Shanahan lead participants through a hands-on exploration of the relationship between art and music. In this workshop, participants will work with both visual art and percussion as they consider the central theme of the connections between these expressive art forms.
I am very interested in this one because of the specific cultural context and the exploration of relationships/connections between two different art forms. I'm also hoping that Islamic (geometric) art will be included (hint, hint).  Can't wait.
Powerful Partnerships: Teaching Artists and Classroom Teachers Working Together
Elise Gallinot, Program Director, KID smART
The classroom teacher/teaching artist relationship is a deep and powerful tool for student learning, but what are the key features of successful partnerships? In this workshop we will explore some approaches to the co-teaching relationship, focusing on structuring planning and post-lesson reflection meetings for mutual empowerment and deeper understanding. We will discuss setting goals to help us discover and develop deeper ways to work together as colleagues and examine and develop tools and strategies to guide the co-teaching relationship. Throughout the workshop, we will focus on the following questions:

• What are the features of successful teaching artist/ classroom teacher partnerships?
• What tools do we need to make sure partnerships are vital and focused?
• How can we work together to assess quality integration focused on student learning?
I am hoping this workshop will give me some new insights into building, maintaining and deepening relationships with teachers, something that is still a work in progress for me since my time in schools is always so brief.  I generally do not co-teach Math in Your Feet but, more and more, I am meeting teachers with whom I would like to collaborate more deeply.  I also think this workshop may also be helpful in my quest to refine the way I present and frame my professional learning experiences for teachers.

At the date of this post I will be experiencing all this in a little more than three week's time.  I'm sure it will be incredible on a lot of levels and I plan to share and process my learning in this space.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Not All the Same

I'm telling you right now, understanding 'sameness' is hard for a kid.  It might not be hard for my adult brain, but for a six or seven year old, it takes a huge amount of concentration, analysis, and wherewithal to make it happen.

It's easily obvious to me that these slices of paper pizzas are not at all the same but you know what is really hard for me? Resisting the urge to rearrange those little pieces so this child can be 'successful' or get the 'right' answer.

When I resist the urge to correct or direct, I am able to help one child notice that he needs to select the same kinds and number of shapes for each piece of paper pizza.  When I resist the urge to rearrange, I can support the other child  who has mastered that step and now needs a chance to evaluate the position of the shapes on each 'slice.'

At some point, though, it's their project, and they can only move themselves so far in the short time we have. Sometimes just finishing is a victory.

This paper pizza activity I designed is deceptively simple because in one fell swoop it reinforces the math concepts of sameness, position, geometric shapes, pattern unit, transformation and symmetry. To adult eyes there is nothing to it. For a six or seven year old it is, I assert, the very best kind of challenge.

The activity gets an introduction with project examples and the briefest of instructions, and then the kids go at it.  Some might view my approach as flawed or, at the very least, unhelpful.  Perhaps, but how does one learn these things? I could talk until I was blue in the face about what they need to do; I could break down the making process into minute individual steps; I could do all the work for them, pointing out the next step every step of the way...and what would they learn?

Instead, I use my adult eyes for making observations. My adult hands to point out the lapses in visual reasoning. My adult mind to ask, "Does that look the same to you?" or "Does each piece have the same number of shapes?"

But at no time do I judge the work in terms of rightness or wrongness.  Most of these rising first graders 'got' it. Some did not, but each paper pizza is beautiful, not just because of the bright colors, but because it is a gorgeous snapshot into the how each individual child is thinking, at this particular moment in time.  Because no kid is the same as any other kid - and that is something to celebrate!


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