There is an unfortunate tendency to think of math as something that happens in the brain, but it is deeply embedded in the body. I’m not recommending movement just because it gets the blood pumping or is fun for kids who struggle in math, but because the body has ways of knowing that are not tapped into in traditional math classrooms. And, don’t even get me started on the importance of unstructured play to develop critical thinking skills. That will have to wait!
In the meantime, I will rant about the importance of movement. I recently discovered Dr. John Ratey’s work, who “has embarked on a world-wide mission to re-engineer schools, corporations, and individual lifestyle practices by incorporating exercise to achieve peak performance and optimum mental health.”
I’ve also had a chance to talk with several OT’s and learned how many issues with learning are rooted in the body. Did you know we have more than five senses?! The vestibular system helps with balance and movement. Proprioception, unlike the other six senses, doesn’t take in any information from the outside world, but relies on information from the joints, muscles, and other parts of the body to figure out things like how hard to grip your pencil. And they both explain why I keep walking into walls!
Here are a few programs if you are interested in going further down the rabbit hole:
- Rhythm of Math
- Interactive Metronome
- Brain Gym
Rhythm of Math
I haven’t had a chance to try Rhythm of Math out yet, but I am so thrilled to discover it exists. I’ll be sure to report back when we have a chance to pilot this program. I focus a lot on tactile learning (fine motor/sensations on skin) but not as much on kinesthetic (moving large muscle groups) so I’ve been looking for a way to add in more movement.
From the website, “The Rhythm of Math engages students in learning and applying essential mathematical concepts, while performing, studying, and composing rhythms. Rhythm Blocks are a technique that is easy to learn, even for teachers and students with little or no music experience. They have certain mathematical qualities that make them ideal for learning properties of natural numbers, flexible ways of conceiving of multiplication and fractions, division, ratios, proportions, and measurement.”
I was completely floored by the impact of Bal-A-Vis-X on our classroom culture at My City School. It requires students to attune to each other and pay attention to visual, auditory, and movement cues. While I have no idea if it has any direct impact on learning content, my impression is that it has increased our students’ ability to actively participate in group lessons. As far as I can tell, there is no well established research on this program, but there is a case study.
I have been through the first level of training in Interactive Metronome, and it is tough! I have had several students go through the program with an OT and have seen significant improvements. There is a lot of research out there on IM. For me the question to ask is not “Does it work?” but rather “Who benefits the most?” I try to be efficient both with time and money when I make recommendations. It’s unclear to me if it is a good choice for a general ed classroom teacher to use or if a smaller SPED class would be a good choice or if it’s best delivered in an OT setting.
Brain Gym is a fun and easy way to introduce movement into a classroom for brain breaks. So far, research on Brain Gym points to an overstatement of claims and an over-reliance on “anecdotal evidence”. I’ll eventually explain my thoughts on research in general, but for now, here’s a case study. I don’t recommend using Brain Gym as a stand-alone intervention but I do find it useful as a way to get kids moving and to note who has issues with movement. Yoga might serve a similar purpose! Mindful movement, especially set sequences, help with motor planning and brings awareness of your body moving through space.
As always, I’d love to hear about any other movement programs – especially if they have a direct connection to learning mathematics!