Sunday, November 20, 2016

Math on the Move: a framework for teaching much more than math!

I first had the opportunity to "meet" Malke Rosenfeld on twitter two years ago through the Summer Math Photo Challenge, created by the #MBoS twitter group. The idea was simple, look around your world and take pictures of everyday things that included the target math concept for the week. For my students, who love to walk around the school and who love to take pictures with their iPads, this was pretty much a dream project. I built my entire summer school math curriculum around the project. Malke was a great source of inspiration during that time, always liking the students posts, and posting pictures and ideas that turned into whole group lessons.

I'd been experimenting with movement based math prior to the Photo Challenge project: we'd done a lot of number walks and number scavenger hunts. My students have significant physical and visual challenges, so while they love it when I can incorporate movement into lessons, it can be a real challenge. Encouraged by our success that summer, I branched out, using the same photo challenge concepts to teach phonics in addition to counting and comparing skills in math. It shouldn't have surprised me that, using these tools and ideas, students who'd never seen academic success were finally learning. I was ecstatic, but I wanted more. Then, I discovered Malke was writing a book!

The text is well researched and grounded in solid pedagogy. She makes an important point that students need an opportunity to explore and understand the concepts before trying to hang language on them. Like many teachers of students who struggle with language, I tend to drill the language piece at the expense of the concepts, and her analysis is spot on! Early on, she makes it clear that "the body activity is focused on mathematical sense-making, not mnemonics, often through efforts to solve a physical or moving-scale challenge of some kind." (pg. 3)

I was intrigued that, through the first part of the book, I saw much more clearly how the ideas she put forth could be used in my reading and literacy and even my science lessons to teach basic core concepts and vocabulary, than how I might use it to teach anything I would consider "math." Many of my students struggle with imitation skills as well as basic concepts, and her ideas around using body-scale to demonstrate "big" and "little" or "same" and "different" seemed like natural extensions of something we could do in my classroom, where we'd already used scooter boards to learn about "fast" and "slow." I loved the idea of using video to have students imitate themselves. I haven't tried it yet in the classroom, but I want to!

As she delved deeper into the Math in Your Feet curriculum, I found myself thinking "I love this, but how can I modify it for access?" My previous experience bringing dance into the classroom has generally been everyone had a lot of fun but that it was unsuccessful from an actually-teaching-the-dance perspective. When she broke down the expectations for K-2 students, I found myself saying "I can modify this. My students could do a variation on that." Which brings me to the only qualm I had with the text. Her list of accommodations: it was very clearly based on the students with disabilities you typically see integrated in a public school classroom. The students who can access grade level curriculum with accommodation and minor modifications, and it read like a list of standard accommodations for those students. I can't blame her, since I'm guessing she's probably never tried the program with students in a self-contained or more restrictive setting, and honestly, it's a pretty minor qualm in what is otherwise a great text.

My students have been working on a modified version of the Math in Your Feet curriculum for a couple of weeks now. Accommodating gross motor and vision challenges, we mark off a large portion of the room as our "square." I've made a picture vocabulary list of movements we can do and locations in the square to do them. My students have shown the ability to complete two movements with 1-2 locations, and to imitate those done by others. We're working on using language to write those movements down. Remembering them over time and repeating them is still a challenge, but it's something to work for, but Malke's given us something to strive for. I can't wait to see what they come up with next!

The curriculum in Math on the Move is geared primarily toward teaching mathematical and spacial relationship concepts to upper elementary students. However, the framework put forth teaches so much more than that. Because of its robust nature, it is easy to apply Universal Design concepts and use the framework to teach even to the access levels of object awareness and imitation. I've yet to meet a student, regardless of physical involvement, who didn't appreciate movement. Malke has created a truly inclusive text that I hope will become a staple of every teacher's library. I know it's already taken a key place in mine.

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