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Why Do So Many Students Hate Math? What is a Solution?

I think it goes without saying that we all have a love/hate relationship with mathematics. I focus my career on mathematics however, I struggled with math as a student. I thought by following a dance career, I would in fact steer as far away from math as possible. However, just before I graduated from dance school, I was approached about joining a unique new program offered through the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto which integrated the arts into the classroom. It paid very well, especially for emerging artists, so it was impossible for me to pass up. Once I joined the program, I was trained to teach and developed my skills as an educator.

At first, teachers wanted me to focus on the dramatic element of dance, going into classrooms to combine themes such as animal habitats with dance. We’d “act out” animal behaviors and animate their surroundings. It was entertaining, but in truth, I found this very superficial. It didn’t allow me to use dance to teach (although it was fun and got kids moving). I wanted to use dance as a real teaching tool. Therefore, I looked for themes that would connect to dance structure, choreography, and music. Math was the perfect fit. In the beginning, it was difficult. I would ask a teacher what they were teaching and then develop a lesson to fit their class work. I was challenged by my lack of number sense, especially when asked to connect dance to themes such as palace value, functions, fractions, etc. But then something clicked, and I could suddenly see that dance was math! The basic elements of dance are; space, time, force, and body which directly relate to mathematics. I brought dance back to these basic elements and moved completely away from teaching steps and styles of dance. Fast forward to today, I use creative movement to explore shape, design, and timing. I create dances from a mathematical beginning. My love of math has emerged and I focus on demonstrating how creative math really is.

This brings me to the question, why did I hate math so much in my youth? In school, I suffered from “learned helplessness”. Basically, I “turned off” when something was too difficult and always managed to focus my efforts, assignments, and projects on what I was comfortable with, somehow being able to avoid the tough problems and still come out with good grades. Now that I’m math-focused, I really wish I had been shown math in a creative way from the beginning, that my lack of understanding was not something to shy away from but to explore. Had math been framed in a creative schema, or if I was given the ability to explore math and discover solutions, I would have excelled a lot sooner and maybe even have been more willing to pursue other careers.

When I did some investigating into what others were saying about why students hate math, the most popular reasons were; students find math dull, it’s a difficult subject to relate to, it takes more practice to master, math is abstract and difficult to understand, it requires a lot of memorization, it involves making mistakes, and the learning pace is not personalized.

After looking at this list, it became obvious that dance is one solution. Dance makes math fun, pulling students out of school routines, and moving them away from desks while enjoying math with music and art. Dance, and specifically creative movement, is easy to relate to. Making mistakes is the best part of being a dancer, mistakes are an important aspect of the creative process, and it is how we discover new movements and ideas. Using dance and math together helps the abstract ideas of math make sense because we can pull ourselves away from the base 10 number system and become more open about math and what it is philosophically and technically. Dancing enhances memorization and is known to help enhance cognition by stimulating the brain.

Dance is also an easy tool to work with, even if you think you can’t dance, my program Dance Equations is about exploring, therefore you are guiding the students through structured improvisation, and are not required to teach steps. Your math knowledge, in my program, is far more useful than any dance training. The students create their own movement phrases while the instructor gives them math problems to solve through their own choreography. For example, exploring fractions with dance allows for an immediate visual representation, using a plethora of math, computation, and fractal representation within the development of choreography. There is a direct experience of dancing 1/12 of the speed and overlaying movement and combining counts and phrases which clearly demonstrates equivalent fractions. Dance allows the students to feel math.

It is my hope that, in the future, we can allow teachers the space to explore new ways to teach math and encourage our creative connection with numbers. Let’s find our eureka and celebrate the importance of math on our social, and philosophical well-being.

To learn more about Dance Equations please visit my site and join my YouTube channel.

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