Summer in the City | Malke Rosenfeld

I’m in the middle of summer programming.  It’s Math in Your Feet in a lot of ways but, because its summer, not completely like the program I do in schools.  It’s more like a whirlwind of percussive choreography, rhythm, and patterns of all kinds. There’s also a lot of math in there as well, just not as explicitly as in the school version.

My reasoning for this is that kids need as much exposure as possible to patterns in multiple, diverse contexts before they can talk about them, whether percussive patterns or some other kind.  These kids I’ve been working with, for example, are a perfect case in point.  When asked on the first day to find patterns in the room in which we were working, they were initially at a loss.  In all the groups, color patterns were found first.  Then somebody would notice a sequence of objects, but it didn’t repeat; a potential pattern unit, but not a pattern in itself.  Even the three examples of simple tilings in the room (floor, ceiling and walls) escaped notice, even when I pointed them out.

Patterns are more than sequences of colors, which is how they’re often taught in the early grades.  They are more than two dimensional shapes, another traditional presentation.  They are sounds, movements, expressions, order. They are long and short.  They combine to make new patterns.  They repeat.  They change.  They’re everywhere.

So, when I say we’re not talking about math explicitly I mean we don’t need to talk about it because we’re doing it.  Calling it ‘math’ interrupts the flow we’ve created — sometimes just doing and experiencing is enough.  This doing time is a chance to get swept up in the creating, to be fully engaged in and amazed and delighted with the growth of your own abilities.  I believe this because, simply put, that is what I find best about learning something new.

On top of the sheer fun of watching kids engage in new pursuits like percussive dance, one of the other reasons I’m enjoying doing the summer version of Math in Your Feet is that I have leeway to experiment with how I deliver the program (including freeing us up from standards-based expectations even though, ironically, we’re meeting them anyway), how I engage my young dancers (right now ages eight to eleven), and how I set up our space.

In the videos, further down, you can see what I’m trying out with space right now.  It’s a big grid; not the normal set-up for Math in Your Feet. Usually, students do their creative work in squares taped out in individual groups of two, each pair slightly separated from the other groups.  It usually looks something like this:

Oh, the room looks lonely without my dancers.  This is what it looks like when we’re doing our work:

The new set-up came about because, as you can see below, the floor really lent itself to a large grid format and it was much easier than taping the floor as usual. The girls in the videos were in the room hanging out with me before class while I was setting up the room.  They were happy to help me tape out the floor and, often happens in this kind of situation, my helpers invariably ended up exploring their newly taped environment without any prompting.  This is actually my favorite time with kids — manipulating the floor space with tape and then seeing what they do when they first discover it.  Here’s a peek at the space and the only part of their spontaneous exploration I could capture on video:

Their movement is a natural kid reaction to squares — hopscotch!  But in this second little clip you can see how they started exploring rows as well as columns.

I’m not sure I’ll do this kind of taping again (for a lot of reasons), but it was clear that this grid had an effect on my dancers.  Later, during our class time, when we were talking again about other kinds of patterns they could find, other than the ones we were making with our hands and feet, they noticed that each square of the large blue grid was made up of four smaller tile squares.  Given that on the first day (no grid) they never even noticed the floor, this was a huge step forward at identifying and describing the structure of their environment.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love tape!

If you’re curious about how I’ve used tape in my math-focused dance classes and my dance-focused math classes, here’s my original love note about floor tape and its myriad uses in a preschool setting.  And, here is a link to one of my favorite posts on my personal blog about how the tape on the floor serves as the ‘third teacher’ in my elementary Math in Your Feet residencies.

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