Monkey Around With Math
|March 22, 2012||Posted by mjfulmer under Why Monkey Math?|
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Attention and engagement are the keys to learning. Solving a math problem requires an active mind; a mind that will explore the possibilities when the answer is not obvious, that will persevere, be creative, and seek a variety of ways to explore the problem. This is the kind of mind our children will need to navigate the future in our rapidly changing, technologically inclined society. Monkey Math is a way of demystifying numeracy concepts and preparing children to recognize the value of understanding numbers, patterns, relationships, logic, and perseverance while having a good time with their peers, learning social skills, and getting some exercise.
It appears to me that there is an epidemic of math block in the land. Most people who struggle with reading seem to persevere, get the help they need, and eventually become literate. People who struggle with math are more likely to give up. This situation bears deep consideration. If there is a culture of self-defeat surrounding math, where does it come from and what can we do about it?
Children learn at their own pace. They have watershed moments when their brains are ready to handle what they are being asked to learn. I know this from watching my daughter learn to read. When she was 7, her teachers told me that they were ‘tearing their hair out’ in frustration at the inability of this obviously intelligent child to get with the program in regards to reading. Three years later, she picked up a Harry Potter book (one of the really fat ones) and finished it because she was impatient to find out what happened next and my reading it to her was taking too long. An inquiring mind wanted to know! She went on from there to become a passionate and voracious reader.
One of the problems with the way math is taught in school is the stigma and sense of defeat that comes when a child is asked to learn something for which their brain is not ready or that just does not catch their interest. The brain’s learning switch does not turn on when the owner of that brain is not compelled to learn. Using paper and pencil drills while sitting at a desk is effective for about 17% of learners. We need to find some other ways to help children get fluent with using numbers to understand and explore their world.
That particular issue has a simple solution when your students are young children: make it fun! Research shows that play helps improve academic outcomes. Learning through play not only solves the engagement problem, it helps to build a positive attitude towards the learning. Attitude is one of the essential building blocks of math success. If you think you can do something, you are likely to find a way through even the most perplexing problems.
Using movement to teach math helps to build the fun factor. It also helps anchor the learning into long-term memory. An added benefit is that movement is essential to our health and physical and mental wellbeing. We need a well functioning vestibular system in order to learn well. Have you ever noticed how thrilled most children are to dance, twirl, tumble, tip, and jump around? Children who find it difficult to sit still need movement in order to settle them down and children who are drooping at their desks need movement to perk them up.
Another benefit to learning in an active social environment, instead of isolated at your desk feeling frustrated over something you don’t understand, is that the group environment is conducive to a child’s building their learning in ways that are personally meaningful. If students are asked to hold up 3 fingers on one hand and 2 fingers on their other hand, the child who thinks that they are holding up 6 fingers is going to hear the rest of the children call out “5!”, look at their own fingers, look around, and start to figure it out. The teacher who witnesses this has access to immediate assessment: a glance will show you if the light of recognition is starting to glimmer in their eyes or if they are clouded in confusion. If confusion reigns, the teacher can step in and help that child do the count. No shame, no stigma, no math block. Just more of the game of counting out loud, in a jolly atmosphere, with your classmates.
Physical activity enhances academic performance and results in happier children, higher test scores, better concentration, and reduced disciplinary problems. Teaching math with dance and movement is simple in the primary grades. We are equipped with the very manipulative that has helped people count and keep track of things from ancient times to the present: our fingers. In fact, the word digit comes from the Latin word for finger. This is probably why we have a base ten number system. Most of us have 10 fingers ready to help us count, compare, and calculate.
Are you convinced? Are you ready to lively up your math lessons? There are videos posted to help you get a sense of how to do this. Take it from there and play! Let the children help you create songs, actions, dances, and games that add to the learning. Under the “Meeting the Learning Outcomes” tab, there are more ideas for ways to use movement to address specific numeracy concepts as outlined in the Prescribed Learning Outcomes from the B.C. Ministry of Education.
When the attitude toward math is positive, the teaching lands on fertile soil. Go forth and have some fun….
And please let me know if you and your students come up with something cool that you want to share.