This past weekend I interviewed my sister, Alayne, who is a high school and elementary math teacher and tutor, about how she came up with the idea of using movement to help kids enjoy and understand math. I was hoping she would tell me it was because of her exposure to my education and experience in movement, neurological development, and learning, but that was not to be the case.
Alayne told me that for the most part, high school kids don’t take math because they want to; they take it because they have to. She said many high schoolers tell her math is boring, they hate it, and they can’t understand it. So, when she started teaching high school math, true to her nature, she tried something different.
Her goals were simple: to engage her students, make the class enjoyable and ensure the students understood the material.
Initially, the students gave her a little push-back, but as they got to know her, they came to appreciate this new quirky math teacher. Using their bodies to demonstrate what different equations looked like in graph form provided an experiential learning format that was both multi-sensorial and tangible. It also got the students out of their seats and physically engaged in an active learning process. The bonus here is that consistent repetition of specific movements helps create and strengthen neural pathways to higher brain levels where learning occurs. It helps imprint the lesson.
For a math class designed specifically for seniors who had failed the state proficiency exam and needed to pass in order to graduate, Alayne designed a lesson on linear equations that I think, was brilliant. She cleared a runway in the classroom, brought in measuring tapes and had the students make paper airplanes. They flew the planes, measuring the time and distance from take-off to landing. They then collected and tracked the data and made equations. She explained that the room got a bit loud and raucous, but every student learned and understood the lesson, and had a great time.
Engaging our kids in an active, cooperative learning process sometimes takes a little extra effort, but is important and effective. Teenagers especially benefit from being part of the process – not just being receivers of information. An active learning environment creates a rhythm in the room that fosters camaraderie, cooperation and a supportive community – tenets that support students cognitively, socially, and emotionally.
To my sister I say: Congratulations, Alayne for being a Mathematical Mover and Shaker!
*Next time we’ll discuss Math & Movement with elementary school-aged children