Updated: Feb 19
How the Arts Enhance the Math Fair Experience
Math fairs are becoming more popular, similar to a science fair, students can display work, create their own centers, or more collectively explore math problems as a school community. Generally non-competitive, math fairs celebrate math and provide an opportunity for students to interact with mathematics.
This fun problem-solving event provides teachers with the opportunity to celebrate math while enhancing their student’s problem-solving skills. Typically there is a particular goal in mind, a puzzle to solve, or class projects to display that motivate and inspires youth.
There are many possibilities and ways in which to organize a math fair; a combination of displays or activities can be produced. Preparation for the event involves individual projects, such as historical displays about well-known mathematicians, noteworthy mathematical achievements in a timeline, and mathematical mysteries waiting for the eager minds to solve.
As a theatrical performer, I lean toward interactive presentations and performances because math fairs provide the perfect platform, veering from traditional teaching methods and outcomes. In my program Dance Equations most, if not all, of the supplementary program could exist outside the classroom at such an event. Dance Equations is a robust concept, and I dance teachers through all the realms of movement instructions and the multitude of ways dance and math intersect. However, for the purpose of this blog, I am going to outline a few simple exercises ready for you to explore at your next math event.
1. The Angles Challenge:
Can you successfully perform the angle dance? It’s a coordination challenge extraordinaire where participants must complete and perform the dance. This exercise can have many variations.
To begin, we’re going to use a simple numeric pattern, 8, 4, 2, 1 as an example, and 90-degree turns. Stand facing the “front” or the visuals prepared for the project display. Jump 8 times then quarter turn, jump 8 times to the side, repeat to the back, and final side turning each 8 jumps turn 90 degrees. Next in our number pattern is 4, repeat the sequence of jumping 4 times to each side, clockwise turning 90 degrees, then with 2 jumps, and finally with one jump. Put it to music and voila and angle dance.
Variations are plenty! Following the same number pattern 8,4,2,1 except don’t repeat the jumps to each facing this time. Instead, take 8 jumps to the front, a 90-degree turn followed by 4 jumps to the side, 2 jumps to the back, and finally, 1 to the final side.
In a more complex version, the performer must learn a harder series of turns and/or number patterns. With directions such as; turning 45 degrees clockwise, 90 degrees counterclockwise, 135 degrees counterclockwise, and 360 clockwise. These could be one jump or gesture or follow a repeating movement pattern or number pattern. Use painter's tape to mark the floor as needed.
2. Find the Hidden Dance:
Can you find my secret hip-hop dance? This is an exercise I’ve used a lot in class because it takes very little prep time once I’ve determined a foundational routine. In advance, I create a dance whereby dance steps represent numbers in a base-ten number system. There are ten steps in my dance that represent the digits 0-9. Variations to the steps such as; location, direction/facing, or speed correlate to the place value and together determine the number.
In order to discover my secret dance, students must answer my math questions. The answer to each question represents a dance move. Answer all the questions, learn and present the dance.
A variation of this exercise could involve using a base-twenty number system. This would give you 20 steps to work with and fewer variations for a larger set of answers.
If you’d like to include integers, choose steps that are on one side or move to the side. Performing the step on the right side means that it’s a positive number and starting the step on the left represents a negative number or vice versa.
3. Coordination and/or Function Dance:
Who has superior coordination abilities? Like the classic challenge where you try and rub your belly while you only tap your head, the right side and the left side of your body can work independently. Just like a function, the right and left sides of your body can express the (x) and (y) inputs and outputs.
Imagine a line function where the (x) coordinate increases by 3 and the (y) coordinate by 2. Take your right arm and move it up and down in a cycle with two gestures, while your left arm does 3 gestures, up, to the side, and down. Put it together and it’s a simple expression of a line function.
Variations include using the legs, as well as different line functions with varied input and output options.
The most exciting part about using dance to teach math is that movement stimulates brain activity, it engages the senses and helps students conceptualize mathematics. For more math fair ideas and teacher training, connect with me via my website Dance Equations, and join me for my upcoming professional development seminar. Workshops are collaborative and catered to your teaching needs. Enjoy your next math fair and take it up a notch with some music and dancing!
Contact me for more ideas for math class.