While working in a 90% Spanish-speaking, inner-city school in a district that was a few years into its teaching reform movement, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. There were a growing number of students who were being sent to the counseling center on a daily basis, my class included. Although there was no research study to prove it, I instinctively believed that the more rigid, structured, and somewhat scripted our teaching became, the less compatible it was for the population of students we were serving. Although our knowledge of how to teach reading, writing, and mathematics drastically improved, I could not help but wonder if we were doing a huge disservice to our students by no longer having our learning structured in such a way that provided natural movement breaks through rotations and incorporating activities that were both more engaging and meaningful in building the students’ background knowledge.
One year, I felt the need to try to reach out to what I considered to be my “kinesthetic” learners. I started asking myself if there was a way to teach reading and math to my struggling 5th graders by using whole body activities. After all, I had heard the term “phycho-motor” activities from the kinder wing and knew it had something to do with moving to learn letters and sounds, but that was the extent of my understanding. Since I was stronger in my understanding of teaching mathematics, I chose to start there.
One day, on the spur of the moment, I came up with an activity using a 100-foot measuring tape. Described in more detail in part 3, it involved taking out my students and having them estimate how far 100 feet would be and to walk the entire 100 feet in increments of 10 feet, initially with their eyes open, then with their eyes closed. By the end of the 100 feet, they had internalized how far 10 feet was. Children and adults alike have such a hard time with estimating large measures, since they have such little experience measuring using those amounts. Years later, I consistently used this same activity with my university methods students and when estimating the distance of the 100 feet, I received the same results, some severely under or over-estimating. The only student who was ever spot on was a young woman who ran track.
Soon after, my teaching career took a turn and I left the classroom to become a support teacher and later a university instructor. For a few years I had forgotten about my quest of creating lessons that integrate movement to support math learning until one day, a few years ago, I had the privilege of participating in a professional development trip to a rural school in Guatemala. On the first day, Jim Barta, the lead professor from Utah State
University, working with the 6th grade class, used masking tape to create a 100 square grid on the cement floor. He engaged the students in problems that involved computation with decimals. It was at that moment when my original question resurfaced, and this time I did not want to let it go.
Starting a new teaching job that involved pulling small groups of struggling study its affects on learning. The first year I had a few different groups of students spend about a month going around the school to measure the outside perimeters of each of the 10 buildings. We started with the rectangular buildings and then progressed to those comprised of more complicated shapes. They had to measure and record on grid paper the footprint of each building. This not only challenged their measuring skills, but their visual-spatial skills as well. One day, I was walking back to class with a group of 4th grade students when one of them spontaneously blurted, “I feel really good!” Surprised, I asked him why, to which he replied, “I don’t know, but I feel really good!”
The particular student who made this comment was one that was awkward, and clumsy. I knew that something about moving and being outdoors for the 45 minutes was really good for him physically. At this point, I decided that I needed to find out what the affects of movements were on a deeper level. Was it just fun and enjoyable, or was there more to movement, which affected the body on a deeper level? This prompted me to dig into the literature and research, which has been forever life changing. What I discovered is that, not only is movement an essential modality of learning for all students, but it is absolutely critical for our struggling learners and those with special needs.
---From my book: Movement Makes Math Meaningful, Pages 5-6
Lisa Ann de Garcia, MA, MEd.