Academic journal article Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom

Pirouettes and Protractors: Dancing through Mathematics

Academic journal article Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom

Pirouettes and Protractors: Dancing through Mathematics

Article excerpt

An explanation of how the kinaesthetic context of dance may be used to investigate geometry is provided. Using a context such as dance makes mathematics learning accessible to all and engages students who may not otherwise be engaged.

The scene: Jennifer's pre-service numeracy class

"Class, today we are going to be doing ballet."

"In numeracy class?!"

Jennifer's students were very surprised to hear that they were going to be exploring ballet in a pre-service education class focused on numeracy. Many people see mathematics as a boring, rigid school subject and dance as a fun, creative extra-curricular activity. However, mathematics and dance have many similarities, including manipulating and exploring patterns, defining and solving problems, and appreciating beauty (Asaro, 2016; Parsley & Soriano, 2009). Mathematics concepts inherent in dance include patterns, transformations, counting, and geometry. While mathematical content may be the focus of a dance activity, mathematical proficiencies (e.g., problem-solving) are equally prevalent.

In line with suggestions in the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA] n.d.-b), mathematics has moved away from being a subject where work is completed in an individual, silent, seated situation to a more active and interactive subject, which reflects an understanding that "learning, thought, creativity and intelligence are not processes of the brain alone, but of the whole body" (Hannaford, 2005, p. 15). Furthermore, the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics focuses on making connections between mathematics and other subject areas (ACARA, n.d.-c). As a result of such suggestions in the Australian Curriculum, as well as other curricula worldwide (e.g., Department for Education, 2013; Gouvernement du Quebec Ministere de l'Education, 2001; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005), more examples of dance and movement in mathematics classes have been reported in academic and popular literature. Some dance/mathematics activities have been driven by researchers (e.g., Smith, King, & Hoyte, 2014), while others are based on the work of non-school-based arts educators (e.g., Rosenfeld, 2011, 2013). Several benefits have been reported from incorporating dance in mathematics, such as increased test scores/understanding (e.g., Parsley & Soriano, 2009; Smith et al., 2014) and positive affective changes (e.g., Werner, 2001; Wood, 2008).

Here, we present two activities in which students explore angles and related geometric properties in the context of ballet. These examples add to the growing body of literature featuring activities that integrate mathematics and dance. For instance, Larkin, Perez, and Webb (2004) provided 12 primary-level activities that addressed mathematical topics such as symmetry and common multiples. Schaffer and Stern (2014) described a "dance" involving loops of rope to create various two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional figures. Finally, Hawes, Moss, Finch, and Katz (2012 /2013) presented a sequence of activities to explore geometric patterns and functions. Having provided an overview of a few different activities that incorporate mathematics and dance, we now turn to a discussion of two activities, focusing on angles, that have been successfully implemented in pre-service numeracy classes.

Setting the stage

In the two-year, post-degree teacher education program (MTeach) at Monash University in Melbourne, students take a mandatory numeracy unit, Numeracy for Learners and Teachers. The introduction of the unit was driven by the graduate expectations for teachers related to numeracy from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (2014) and the related curriculum expectations in the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics (ACARA, n.d.-b), where numeracy is one of seven general capabilities. …

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