I have a weird name. Mall-key. Like the “key to the mall.” Because of this I open every workshop with kids by teaching my name. I do it through clapping, because I also need to quickly assess multiple things about each new group (focus, interest, attention, beat competency, group-ness, etc.)
I clap my name because it’s an easy way to introduce our upcoming work. I can clap my name with two sharp, hard claps, or two soft swishes from rubbing my hands together. I can clap my hands and then my legs (“up, down”) or I can make two deep sounds by hitting my chest. And then I ask my new friends if they have any ideas for how I can say my name with claps. Whatever I do, my intention is to illustrate, from the get go, that there are many ways to do one thing, and that it’s fun to experiment with ideas.
How it Started
When I do the clap-my-name I also tell kids that any time I make a pattern forward, I like to figure out how to do it in reverse (or backward, or opposite) and then we have fun thinking how to “say” my name forward AND backward. I’m working in the next few months to adapt my Math in Your Feet program to the primary grades. Because this was my first session with 2nd graders I had no idea how things might go. So, imagine my excitement that this idea of opposite/reverse/backward actually became a theme that influenced the course of the class.
We started with me introducing two movements — two-footed jumps and single footed steps, both done in “center” which I also described as “middle.”
Me: What do you think would happen if we put two jumps together and then two steps? What do you think would happen?
[Collective shrugging of shoulders. I turn off the music as ask again: “What do you think would happen?” Kid in blue, in front of me, jumps twice, steps twice, but I don’t notice. I ask the question again, and kid in blue dances JJSS again, but my back is turned and I don’t notice him. He keeps doing it through the conversation, but I still don’t notice!]
Boy: Um, it will be four?
Me, to the group: It will be four what?
Boy: It will be four…movements.
Me: Ah, four movements! What else could it be four of? Is there any other ways to describe the four?
Girl: It could be a rhythm.
Me: It could be a four … what do we call what makes the rhythm?
Me: Yeah, a four beat rhythm. Let’s try it together. [Burst of inspiration] Actually, do you guys just want to try it with your partners? And see what two jumps and two steps look like and feel like? I’ll walk around and see what you’re doing.
Me: Who wants to show me jump jump step step? Which team wants to show me?
[At this point I’d just like to point out that I ASSUMED that because I asked what would happen if they put “two jumps and two steps” together that I would get a single answer. Silly me.]
Kid in blue: Can we do any pattern?
Me: ANY pattern? Did you come up with something else?
Kid in blue: Yeah…J, S, J, S
Me, walking over to our little white board: Wow. You know what, it’s not up here on this board. This is from the first graders and look! Now I have a fourth pattern to put on here. You guys dance it and we’ll say it and dance it with our hands while we’re sitting.
Everyone says it with me: Jump, step, jump, step [rehearsing the steps with their hands].
Me: Who else wants to show what they’ve done? Who has JJSS? Boys do you want to show us? … and they even used the same feet! Now who would like to play around with some ideas about different ways to combine jumps and steps? Who would like to take a few minutes to do that and see what you come up with? [All hands go up.]
[2-3 minutes of experimentation]
Me: So, the first thing I want to see if anyone came up with a new combination that isn’t on the board yet. And the second thing I’m going to do is ask you, and I want you to think about this ahead of time, what kinds of things you noticed about what we did today …
Now who has a combination they want to show us? Let’s turn our faces and bodies toward our friends [two girls in the back of the space dance SJJS but not in tempo so I ask the group to help me keep a steady beat while the girls dance.]
Suddenly there is considerable muttering in the room and I ask…
Me: Did anyone else come up with that combination?” [The whole left side of the group raises their hands and continues to exclaim.]
Me: Shhh, sh, sh!! You guys, look at this!! In the other group [first graders] there was JSSJ. You guys were doing the reverse of that! It’s the opposite. It’s so COOL that you all discovered the SAME thing independently! Okay, one more but it has to be a different pattern from that.
Two new girls dance SSJJ.
Me: And you know what? Our class pattern was JJSS but now you did the opposite [writing on board SSJJ.] We have discovered so many patterns out of steps and jumps, it’s amazing!
Me: I asked you at the beginning to notice something about this space…now I’d like to hear about what kinds of things you noticed about what we just did today. They tell me: dancing, rhythm, opposites, “Well, we did do a lot of two plus twos,” “all of the rhythms had four beats” and movements.
Me: And what were the movements we did? They say “jump” and “step”.
Me: And does anyone remember the direction we were doing the movements in? What do we call it when we’re right here [gesturing to middle of my board]. Were we moving forward and back?
“No, we were staying in the middle.”
What I learned
I learned that even though second graders still have challenges coordinating their bodies, they can stay in rhythm as a group, work productively in teams of two, and do original (to them) thinking in math and dance at the same time. Permutations on the first day! Hooray!