Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cross-Disciplinary Pollination

Collaborations around teaching and learning have been the theme of my summer and, speaking as someone who thrives in this kind of give-and-take intellectual interaction, this has created an ideal learning situation for me.
Most recently, I was in Minneapolis presenting a Math in Your Feet teacher workshop as part of the Artist to Artist network  and the Teaching Artist Journal Design Team meetings (read more about the event here).  I have been meaning to write about my experiences with the A2A protocols, the brains behind their implementation (my brilliant colleagues Barbara Hacket Cox and Becca Barniskis) and how this collaboration has helped my teaching practice but am not quite ready to do that yet.
What I can say at present is that a wild hope became a reality when I invited one of my math education heroes, Christopher Danielson (who resides in the MSP area) to the Minnesota workshop and he accepted.  Because I respect his deep thinking and clarity of thought, especially when evaluating others' ideas, practices and assumptions, I was both excited and nervous to have him experience Math in Your Feet first hand. 
I was nervous because, as a non-native math speaker, so to speak, I am always worried about my 'accent'. My particular challenge is to make sure the mathematics I am teaching in partnership with the dance is presented in an accurate and, hopefully, meaningful way.  Because we most often see math taught as an individual subject, and often in a textbook context, there are not a lot of people I can rely on to tell me if I've 'got it right' or not.  As a result, I am always questioning my assumptions about what I think I know, mathematically speaking.  
This does not imply doubt, however.  If math education is a foreign country, which I think it might be to most of us, then it's best to be respectful of the culture.  Specifically, it's worth really listening to what the people inside that culture have to say about what is important about learning math and why.  I have to say that I have learned quite a bit (read: formulated a lot of questions) from listening in on Twitter discussions and various math educator blogs.    
I have been incredibly lucky to find people to help me with my questions. They are math educators who are familiar with the practice of teaching and learning math outside and beyond the traditional page and have taken an interest in my work. They may not necessarily understand my art form, but they are definitely advocates for a broader vision of what mathematics is and how we can teach and learn it.  Their conversations and helpful clarification have been extremely helpful and supportive in my journey.
So, that's all fabulous and I have come SO far in the last couple years because of these wonderful people.  Prior to this last week, however, no math educator/specialist (beyond my original collaborator Jane Cooney) had ever participated in one of my teacher workshops. But Christopher took up the challenge and, because of him taking a look at what I do from the inside of the experience I'm closer than ever to fleshing out the really important big ideas in mathematics learning that cross paths with percussive dance choreography.  As a result of experiencing Math in Your Feet first hand, Christopher wrote yesterday that he began asking questions about [start quote]:
  • the relationship between variable and attribute,
  • the importance of decomposing things by their attributes and paying attention to one of these attributes at a time, and whether that is a fundamental characteristic of mathematical activity,
  • whether a characteristic of a novice is an inability to distinguish noise from pattern,
  • how children’s experiences with sameness in their non-mathematical lives informs and constrains their ability to work with sameness in mathematics,
  • whether I was taking seriously my responsibility and opportunity to use physical classroom space for student learning, and
  • what kinds of equivalence relations we could use in Malke’s percussive dance work, and whether we can form a group from the resulting elements, together with composition (my hunch is yes and that the resulting group is non-Abelian, but I haven’t worked out the details). [end quote]
It's going to take me a while to process all that and then experiment with how or if those questions are relevant to our dance work.  But, overall, not only am I excited about the challenge of learning more math, I am also beyond thrilled that my work inspired such interesting thinking and question asking. These questions are so full of potential I can hardly stand it!

If you haven't yet seen any video of Math in Your Feet in action, here is a quick three minutes for you:

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