For the Introduction to Assistive Technologies final project, I continued my research on using movement to teach mathematics. The result is a research paper/summary and a sample lesson. The lesson hasn’t actually been taught to kids, and I’m not a teacher, but I did my best to model it on seemingly successful lessons and to think thoroughly about what kinds of accommodations would be necessary for this group of kids. Teaching Patterns with Movement Lesson
Because it is both abstract and concrete, math can be difficult to teach and frustrating to learn. On our trip to a district 75 school in the Bronx we saw a class of students struggling to pay attention to a lesson where one student worked at the board and the rest followed along at their desks. These same kids were thoroughly engaged in gym class, moving around to music and doing simple exercises. Seeing this contrast made me wonder if bringing movement to the math lesson might make it more interesting to the students and help them learn, too.
In class we had seen a video of a class dancing and singing along with a program called Handwriting without Tears. Those kids seemed like they were into the lesson, but was it really helping them to learn to write? If so, how?
There were a few key things I wanted to research and understand better: how to adapt or create lessons for children with learning and physical disabilities, what their needs are and what adaptive techniques work well; what research has been done on incorporating physical movement into formal education; examples of movement being used specifically to teach mathematical concepts. I primarily used the ERIC database and resources found through the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics as well as some Internet searching.
Movement & Learning:
Moving around helps kids to learn and enhances procedural memory. An article in Teaching Children Mathematics summarizing the recent research of an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School relays that “exercise creates in the brain more attention for longer periods of time.” Based on this research and the success of some commercially available products, this article recommends that all teachers incorporate simple physical activities into math lessons, such as walking around the room to solve problems taped to the walls.
Movement also engages kids in the material and can contribute to a general love of learning. One case study of an inclusive classroom that used dance and creative movement throughout the curriculum, but particularly in language arts, summarized that “researchers reported that students demonstrated increased understanding improved behavior in the classroom, and better attitudes toward school.” Another study of 202 children in grades 2-5 found that dance significantly improved the students’ attitudes toward math.
Teaching Math Using Movement:
Kinesthetic learning techniques have demonstrated success in math lessons. One group of first graders used their bodies to explore arithmetic and geometry—they were encouraged to make shapes and move creatively when discussing concepts of height, length, and depth and when beginning work with the properties of shapes. Their instructor found that creative movement made abstract concepts very real to the students. Even very young children, babies and toddlers, can be encouraged to develop geometric and spatial understanding through movement if aided by aware caregivers and teachers.
One excellent example of using movement to teach math comes from an article called Choreographing Patterns and Functions. The authors worked with the teacher in a combined grade 1-2 classroom in a Toronto public school to implement a month-long unit on patterning which included 11 lessons. The students are described as “an exceptionally diverse group of learners with a wide range of abilities.” The objective of the lessons was to support the discovery of rules for patterns in algebraic functions, which can be challenging for students.
The instructors did not jump right into using dance, but instead worked up to it with a series of lessons that used manipulatives, visual representations of patterns, and a contraption called a “function machine.” After achieving a solid understanding of patterning, they began to learn an algebraic dance. The teacher first demonstrates the dance, which uses one movement to represent the value of the variable (multiplied by a coefficient) and a second movement to represent the constant in a two-step equation. The students pick up on the patterns almost immediately and then go on to create their own dances. The authors explain that all of the students, even those who struggled with the previous lessons on two-step functions, were able to “create and recognize elements of two-step dance patterns and accurately perform their arithmetic calculations.” They conclude that bodies can help kids understand algebra in a way akin to how young children use fingers to help them learn arithmetic. They also urge differentiated lesson types to provide many points of access for students who have varied learning styles.
Another example of teachers using movement in math lessons comes from a blog called Sweeny Math, written by a teacher at a private high school for students with learning disabilities. The author describes a song and dance he created to help his kids solve equations. He describes the lesson as the most fun his students have all year and that it helps his students, particularly those who are overwhelmed, to break the process of solving equations down into steps.
Lesson plans and commercially available products also provide support for the use of motion and dance in math lessons, although they do not offer the reflection or evaluation of a research summary or blog entry. One particularly thorough lesson, available from STEM for Teachers (a resource partnership through the Virginia Department of Education), guides students through patterning explorations using dance. I found these particular lessons, which use modeling, small group work, and repetition to teach children to recognize and create patterns, very helpful. My own lesson draws from the techniques exemplified here.
Other lessons came from an organization called Math Dance, which brings together math and dance in performances and workshops for children. The organization, founded by a mathematics teacher, a choreographer, and an educational game designer, offers some sample lessons on patterns, counting, and geometry on its website as well as others available in a book. Some teachers are even using math to teach dance, instead of the other way around, which adds to the idea that math and dance are related and have something to contribute to each other.
Strategies for Teaching Math to Children with Learning Disabilities:
A 2002 article, Strategies for Helping Students Who Have Learning Disabilities in Mathematics, provides a succinct summary of types of learning disabilities and offers a number of adaptive strategies. While the article does not mention the use of kinesthetic learning, many of the suggested strategies are present in the lesson plans and articles that describe teaching math using movement, including: reviewing prerequisite skills and concepts, modeling, using step-by-step procedures, providing guided as well as independent practice, using visual aids, using cooperative learning groups. One in-depth case study highlights the use of individualized attention; understanding the child’s own best problem solving strategies then working closely with them to apply those skills and achieve success in math, particularly with word problems.
Many of the tactics for adaptation seem to draw on the multiple intelligence theory, which suggests that there are a number of ways to be smart and that individuals possess different intelligences to varying degrees. Students who, for example, have difficulty expressing or understanding using typical linguistic means might find physical expression more natural and intuitive.
Creative movement can reach students who “do not learn through more typical instructional formats.” And also turn a typically negative behavior (moving around, fidgeting) into a positive behavior.
Incorporating movement into lessons increases differentiation in instruction, which creates greater learning opportunity, and kinesthetic learning encourages learning in the moment and also strengthens retention. Further, movement creates a point of entry to the material that is not offered in typical instruction. The process of teaching movement lends itself to the incorporation of many strategies for teaching students with learning disabilities, including: modeling, step-by-step instruction, cooperative learning, and combined guided and independent practice. These adaptive strategies can benefit many types of learners and are especially helpful when teaching students with learning disabilities.
 Skoning, Stacey. Dancing the Curriculum. Kappa Delta Pi Record; Summer 2010; 46, 4; pg. 170. Accessed March 2013 through ERIC database at: http://search.proquest.com/eric/docview/366307010/fulltextPDF/13CC0812C421E7609EE/3?accountid=12768
 Elkin, Andrea Christie. Students Hop, Skip, and Jump Their Way to Understanding. Teaching Children Mathematics, Vol. 18, No. 9 (May 2012), pp. 524-525. Accessed March 2013 at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5951/teacchilmath.18.9.0524 .
 Skoning, Stacey. Dancing the Curriculum.
 Werner, Linette. Arts for Academic Achievement. Changing Student Attitudes Toward Math: Using Dance to Teach Math. Paper prepared for the Minneapolis Public Schools. October 2001. Accessed February 2013 through ERIC database: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED482650.pdf
 Complo, Sister Jannita Marie. Teaching geometry through creative movement. The Arithmetic Teacher, Vol. 14, No. 7 (November 1967), pp. 576-578. Accessed February 2013 at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41185664
 Andrews, Angela Giglio. Developing Spatial Sense—a Moving Experience! Teaching Children Mathematics, Vol. 2, No. 5 (January 1996), pp. 290-293. Accessed February 2013 at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41196504 .
 Zachary Hawes, Joan Moss, Heather Finch and Jacques Katz. Choreographing Patterns and Functions. Teaching Children Mathematics, Vol. 19, No. 5 (December 2012/January 2013), pp. 302-309. Accessed February 2013 at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5951/teacchilmath.19.5.0302
 The Dance Steps to Solving the Equation-The Lesson, Sweeny Math (blog), October 3, 2009. Accessed March 2013 at: http://sweeneymath.blogspot.com/search/label/dancing
 Carrie Lewis & Kelly Steele. Dance by Numbers lesson plan for STEM for Teachers.
Accessed March 2013 at: http://www.stem4teachers.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/STEM_Dance_LessonPlanFinal.pdf
 Gilbert, Debbie. Arts Impact Institute Lesson Plan. Accessed March 2013 at: http://www.arts-impact.org/lessonplans/uploads/Patterns%20in%20Dance%20and%20Math.pdf
 Steele., Marcee M. Strategies For Helping Students Who Have Learning Disabilities In Mathematics. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, Vol. 8, No. 3 (November 2002), pp. 140-143. Accessed February 2013 at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41181263 .
 Behrend, Jean L. Learning-Disabled Students Make Sense of Mathematics. Teaching Children Mathematics, Vol. 9, No. 5 (January 2003), pp. 269-273. Accessed March 2013 at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41198150