May 20, 2008
It may look like a dance class, but Erik Stern and Karl Schaffer are actually using movement and rhythm to teach mathematics.
"We translate pattern into choreography, and we translate pattern into math," said Stern, an educator and choreographer at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
A recent episode of the syndicated TV series Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science (DBIS) described how this approach can help people, especially students, who have trouble relating to mathematics.
"Many math-phobic adults and children . . . are put off by math because they are given symbols before they have a real solid experience on which to base it on," Stern said.
Schaffer added, “For many people, having a kinesthetic experience of an abstract idea is extremely helpful in understanding what that abstract idea is.”
By creating their own movements and dances, participants begin to connect with the numbers and symbols they might otherwise struggle with on paper.
"You're dancing something that is in threes; for example, a waltz," Schaffer said. Because it has an odd number of beats, it has a different feeling than does three fours, which has a very even feeling, he noted.
The math dance program is designed for grades four through twelve. It focuses on topics such as symmetry and three-dimensional polyhedra.
"Do the Math Dance" is one of a wide range of mathematical, scientific, and technological topics covered in the DBIS series. The American Institute of Physics produces these science news programs, with the MAA as a contributing partner. The NSF-funded DBIS project delivers twelve 90-second segments each month for showing on local TV stations across the country.