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Using Activities with Movement to Teach Math

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  • 0:04 Introduction to Learning
  • 1:08 Movement and Math
  • 2:11 Examples of Movement in Math
  • 3:30 Mathematical…
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Movement in math is about teaching math concepts through the use of whole body movement activities. This strategy of teaching math actually supports the interdependent components of math proficiency and can aid learning and retention.

Introduction to Learning

How do we learn? Have you ever really thought about the biological process of learning? Have you heard people talking about 'making connections' with new information?

You can think of your mind like a super highway with electrical roads connecting to 'cities' of information. The more roads that lead to a set of information, the stronger the connection with that information. The stronger the connection, the easier the recall of that information. What is learning but storing information in our memory in such a way as to make recall easy? And, the more parts of the brain that are used when learning, the more connections there are to the piece of information. Just like in the real world, the more roads there are leading to a city, the easier it is to get to.

Let's explore ways to incorporate movement with math. Why? Well, movement requires brain activity, and the more active our brains are during learning, the stronger the connections with the new material. It is also true that the more active you are, the more alert are. By keeping students active and alert, they are in a much better position to internalize the mathematical concepts being presented.

Movement and Math

Children love to move; they are wiggly all day long. They can't wait for recess or lunch so they can get up and move. If teachers could harness that movement into academic benefit, think of the opportunities it would give.

Movement in math is an initiative aimed at getting students to use their whole bodies as they learn foundational math skills. This can take the form of synchronized clapping routines for skip counting (the foundations of multiplication tables) or even running around the classroom. By incorporating specific body motions with each math fact, the brain has at least two pathways to get to the information being stored.

Do you know how to ride a bike? Could you explain it to someone else? Probably not, but your muscles remember how to do it and pick up the skill quickly even after a long time away from a bicycle. The same is true for repeated motor function routines linked to math skills. The act of repeating the same hand gestures or body motions actually ties the math facts to those gestures, so that when the child claps his hands or taps a toe the information automatically becomes available.

Examples of Movement in Math

Movement in math can be used with students of any age. Some applications at the earliest stage of learning are:

  • A hopscotch mat for learning numbers: Students must jump from the number 1 to the number 10 consecutively.
  • Clapping for number skipping: Students say all numbers in order, but clap on each target number (like the twos or threes).
  • Cat and Mouse Addition (or any operation really): All students have a number pinned to their backs. A cat is chosen and given a math problem to solve. The cat must chase the mice until she has caught a mouse with the correct answer on his or her back.

An example of a movement in math activity at a later academic stage is:

  • Make the circle: Desks are moved out of the way. A stack of cards are thrown in the air. The cards have an algebra problem on the front and an answer on the back. Students must grab a card, figure out the answer to the question on the front, find the student with the correct answer on the back and form themselves into a circle moving from question to answer to question in order.

Creativity is the key to keeping students' interest and focus as you incorporate movement into your math lessons. Don't forget tools like dice, chalk or markers for the board, sponges for throwing, dots for jumping patterns, colorful mats, or anything that could encourage students to move around.

Mathematical Proficiency Components

There are five components to mathematical proficiency. Let's take a look at each:

Procedural Fluency is the ability to quickly and accurately work the operations in math. When movement is involved, it's plain to see that speed can be included. The faster a student learns to work the problem, the faster he or she will be able to move to the next step in the activity. This encourages students to become faster with their processing skills. Many rote memory facts can be supported through movement in math activities (like the multiplication tables).

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