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Math Games on Your Feet: Fun Activities for Teaching Math Through Dance

In reality, dance is the physical embodiment of mathematics, therefore the greater your ability to articulate ideas through mathematical language, the more you can vocalize math’s presence in dance choreography. While this topic may seem taboo, there have been multiple studies published proving the benefits of movement in math education and movement integrated into learning in general. Most often, these studies highlight the overwhelming benefits of; improving comprehension, retaining concepts, improving cognition, and creating a positive relationship with mathematics.


However, as is often the case, the research about teaching and learning habits has not always been transmitted into daily teaching practices. It can be difficult to follow what researchers are suggesting when in the trenches, especially with so many protocols and standards to adhere to, how can one possibly assess all the data available and apply it?


Therefore there need to be tangible ways to help teachers, making sure they have community support outside of the teaching profession. I am someone dedicated to the well-being of educators who have taken on the incredibly important task of educating our youth. It is from this intention that I created Dance Equations, as a support resource for teachers who want to use skills outside of their profession, that may aid them in their classroom, and inspire them to connect with their students in new ways.




While much of my curriculum explores larger unit lessons and the scaffolding needed to implement my ideas, there are many simple ways we can use dance in the classroom every day and right away. Besides the benefits dance has for the student, the teacher can benefit from using dance because of its accessibility and availability. Once the connection between math and dance has been made, a teacher has only to ask students to stand or move desks to get started, because there is little setup involved. Quick 5 to 15-minute daily routines can motivate, refresh, or bookend your lessons. Here are some simple movement games that are easy to implement in the classroom if you’re looking for a way to get started.


Six Simple Ways to Introduce Movement Into Math Class


1. Math Dance of the Day:


In my math dance classroom, I have an established dance routine on which I can always rely. This routine is a series of 10 steps that represent the digits 0-9. The one's place value always determines the step, while the tens place value represents a variable of this step. When students walk into my space, there is a problem or series of math problems to solve on the whiteboard. The answers to these questions create the math dance of the day. Students who arrive early can start figuring out this dance, and it allows me to begin each class with a movement activity, group, or solo work. We can get in the “zone” with blood flowing before sitting down for a lesson.


2. Reinforcing Skills:


Dance provides a great mechanism to reinforce needed skills. Memorizing multiplication facts are an easy example I can offer you. Dances are based on counts and counts are structured into bars of music or phrases. Giving your students time to create a dance that is 7 beats per bar, for example, requires them to work with number groupings. If each week you focus on a different multiplication fact, your students will be reinforcing this skill. Simple questions like; What step occurs on the last beat of your 4th musical bar, and what count is that? are ways that you can keep the conversation mathematical. You can also have a weekly routine challenge where you request a dance that is, for example, 72 counts, further asking for the students to figure out what would give this dance even bars of music. Asking for dance notation and defining the count structure further solidifies the groupings. Since there are multiple answers to this question, everyone's dance would have a slightly different numerical structure.


3. Function and Coordination Challenges:


One of my favorite go-to exercises is my function dance challenge. Mostly because we can apply the function to real word situations, visually, while also challenging our coordination abilities. Coordination is a useful tool to develop and it greatly enhances one’s cognitive ability. In the video below I demonstrate one of the ways that I use functions in dance choreography. I also use them to determine pathways and formations.



4. Introducing a Mathematical Theme Through Improvisation:


An improvisation exercise can be useful on many levels. For older students it allows them to explore their movement vocabulary which they can then use in choreography. However, for younger students, it allows for immediate exploration of a new mathematical concept such as symmetry, translations, rotations, angles, skip counting, levels, spacial awareness, division, and much more. I use short improvisations to introduce these themes and also to warm up my classes quickly, especially if I’m preparing them creatively. In its very simplest form, ask students to step away from their desks and; make a shape that is symmetrical and then asymmetrical, show a right angle with their body, turn 180 degrees, demonstrate the basic shape of a quadratic line function with their arms, etc. A dance lesson can start with very simple movements and beginnings.


5. Fraction, Ratios, and Fregency Challenges:


What I like about these as a focus, is that you can use one movement or gesture and explore multiple concepts. You don’t need a long dance to ask students to perform a step faster or slower or to show it in relationship to one another. Very simply, you could ask students to calculate and perform the frequency of a gesture, speed up or slow down a movement as a fraction of the original musical phase, or show ratios between two students performing a step at different speeds. All of these options require little space or time to execute but can break the everyday routine of working at desks and on paper.



6. Dancing to a Math-Focused Song:


This is likely something many teachers have already explored since we’re more accustomed to using music to inspire students. So there is no reason to eliminate what is already accessible and comfortable. There are plenty of songs about math that you can find online and your math class could start with a simple “dance party” or “dance jam” about a current curricular topic. With my love of hip-hop, I work with my students to create rap verses about the mathematical concepts I’d like them to know.



If you would like to learn more about math dance instruction, please join my one-on-one coaching course. Through all of my courses, I give teachers the tools required to teach dance and to include simple movement games in the classroom. Dance is a perfect marriage with mathematics and it can be used to animate scientific concepts, vocabulary, and other curricular themes. I have a complete body of work which I share with my clients and am readily available to answer questions and develop custom material for their classes. My mission is to inspire you and keep you inspired and active as a modern teacher. I want you to feel as comfortable as possible using dance and benefiting from everything that moment-based lessons have to offer. Learn more at www.danceequations.com and contact me via email at danceequations@gmail.com


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