Monday, October 7, 2013


I've been thinking intently for the past week. I've finally come to the conclusion that the challenge we face when bringing dance or movement into the picture during math time is not necessarily related to creating meaningful and effective learning experiences for our students, although these are certainly important concerns.

No, the issues we collectively need to address, before we can even start that process, are our deeply held beliefs about what math is and what dance is.

If math learning means number facts, right or wrong answers, learning algorithms, memorizing procedures, and experiencing math topics in isolation from one another then this video makes perfect sense to me. (I love the energy here, but question the assumptions.)

Or, this -- a very strong example of non-dance movement but, again, with the ultimate goal being memorization of math facts.

If, on the other hand, we can come to not only accept but truly understand the following vision of math making and math learning:
"Mathematics is a highly creative activity.  Mathematicians solve problems, but they also pose problems. They inquire. They explore relations. Investigate interesting patterns and craft proofs.  They present their ideas to the mathematics community and those ideas hold up only when the logic of those arguments are accepted. They don’t have a wise one who they line up for to check their answers with a red pen." - Cathy Twomey Fosnot (excerpted from this Context for Learning video)
...and if we can at least consider, as I argued recently, that the body is more than a drawing tool...

...maybe then we could come to accept (and eventually understand) how body knowledge is different from but not inferior to what we see as 'real learning': verbal and written discourse and reasoning abstractly through the medium of notated language.  If we could do this then perhaps eventually we could create some clarity on how the body can be more than simply the handmaiden to the goals of other disciplines, specifically math, in educational settings.

I'm still thinking on all of this, and it's for sure a good kind of think, but I do wonder sometimes if I'm setting the bar too high. I'll leave you with what I know:

- Kids love to move.

- Kids love to move, but there are different kinds of moving and different kinds of learning-while-moving.

- In her book, Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head, Carla Hannaford said, "Learning, thought, creativity, and intelligence are not processes of the brain alone, but of the whole body."

- There are ways to bring dance and movement into math learning and still maintain the integrity of both disciplines. My recent article in the Teaching Artist Journal goes into further detail about how this can come to be.


  1. Those two videos show great ways to memorize information, but the application seems to be left out. I love they way your approach keeps the creative aspect alive.

  2. I am continually surprised by how your work and inquiry parallels my own line of thought even though I know very little about dance and math education.

    In this post and your last I was reminded of what David Pye says on the first page of his book, The Nature and Art of Workmanship, "Design is what, for practical purposes, can be conveyed in words and by drawing: workmanship is what, for practical purposes, can not."

    For Pye, these two disciplines, design and workmanship, come together to make something like piece of furniture. A better parallel for your work might be how composition (very mathy) and musicianship (very dancy) come together to make a musical performance.

    As you have illustrated, finding the balance is what seems so elusive, either the math is servant to the dance or vice versa. Leaving aside the element of learning, I wonder if your struggle to “maintain the integrity” of both math and dance is rooted in the problem that you are such a trailblazer in this area and there is, so far, no ready way to describe that thing that is a true combination of math and dance. Or to put it more concretely:

    Design + Workmanship = Furniture
    Composition + Musicianship = Music
    Math + Dance = ???

    Maybe, like you, I am setting the bar to high and being overly materialist in trying to define terms but all of these disciplines do share the thread of creativity so I think you are definitely on the right path. I’m looking forward to reading more about your journey!


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


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