Teaching Below the Surface: Harnessing the Power of Tape

In posts on my own blog I have espoused my enthusiasm for using simple floor tape to manipulate and encourage physical exploration of an environment.  It’s a powerful tool for teaching below the surface, something that makes a bigger impact when you don’t talk about it because it’s just there.  The Reggio Emilia approach says that environment is the third teacher and I have found this to be true in my work.  How I set up a learning environment can have a large impact on the students, and I have pictures to prove it!

In my work with elementary students we have a group dancing time to warm up and learn clogging, a little each day until they have some mastery of basic steps by the end of the week.  The bulk of our class time, however, is spent with partners engaged in creative work.  This effort is done in what I call a ‘personal dance space’: a scaled down version of the portable square dance platform on which I teach and perform.  Mine is wood, theirs are tape.  Mine is brown, theirs are blue.  Mine is three dimensional, theirs is two dimensional. Mine is 3’x3’ and theirs are 2’x2’.  Did I mention I love floor tape?

On the first day we work exclusively as a large group and the tape on the floor in our dance space is a simple three-sided rectangle.  The kids line up with their toes on the tape and face toward the center of the space.  This way everyone can see me and what my feet are doing.  By the second day of our work together I’ve managed to tape out about 15 pairs of blue dance spaces.  Inevitably, on this day the kids walk into the room and, knowing nothing about what is going to happen in our class later, go directly to a box and sit down.  I have to redirect them to the large-group perimeter tape but there’s something about having a space of one’s own, and these boxes just pull them in.

We never talk about the set up of the room, but since we focus quite a bit on transformation and symmetry in this program I try my best to make sure that, if asked, I can draw an accurate line of symmetry down the middle of our dance space.  So, without further ado, here are some drawings done by fourth graders as part of a Thank You letter project their teacher had them complete at the end of the residency.  No one told them what to draw. 

I’m obviously quite welcoming!  This was drawn from memory, back in the classroom.  Notice the basic symmetry of the space. 


This isn’t exactly what the room looks like (not enough squares) but you can draw a perfect line of symmetry from top to bottom, through the dance space pictured here.


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One of the other ‘below the surface’ learning tools in Math in Your Feet is that working with a friend and sharing ideas can lead to amazing results. Not only are these two girls dancing together (and smiling), they’re dancing in a space delineated by blue tape!

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