Pupils and teachers at Ashley Road and Muirfield primary schools recently took part in a new initiative to learn more about mathematics through dancing.
Creativity, Shape and Measure was a 6 week pilot project exploring geometry through dance. The aim of the project was two-fold: to increase teachers’ confidence in using creative approaches to mathematics in the classroom, and improve primary 3-4 pupils’ ability to apply their learning in shape and measurement to other areas of learning and problem solving. Creative Learning use a bespoke approach for each school, therefore, 4 class teachers were invited to a CPD twilight session to understand how dance is closely linked to mathematics and to establish collaboratively how dance could be used to address the numeracy benchmarks in their respective schools. From this session, the teachers and creative practitioner Linzy McAvoy decided that symmetry and angles would be the area to be covered.
Over 4 weeks Linzy McAvoy taught the pupils different dance techniques from tutting, to dabbing to robotics using symmetry and angles. The pupils started with making basic physical symmetrical shapes to making more complex group symmetrical shapes involving close collaboration and teamwork. What became apparent from the first session was that pupils could describe what symmetry is, but some pupils could not apply symmetry. This allowed the class teachers to identify which pupils needed to refresh their learning. Each session progressed in complexity culminating with students integrating physical symmetrical patterns incorporating a series of right angles, to linking the patterns through movement all based on angles.
Creativity, Shape and Measure was specifically designed in response to the challenge of raising attainment in numeracy. Numeracy in Scotland’s schools has been in sharp focus in recent years. The percentage of pupils in P4 performing well or very well has decreased from 76% in 2011 to 66% in 2015. In the OECD report into ‘Improving Scotland’s Schools’, our schools, whilst still performing better than the rest of the UK, have slipped in the OECD performance tables, with the number of low achievers in mathematics having increased and the number of high achievers having decreased. In 2017, the Scottish Government has sought to arrest this pattern by placing ‘improving attainment in literacy and numeracy’ as the first of the 4 current priorities in the National Improvement Framework.
Successful performance in mathematics is linked by the OECD with motivation to study, indeed, the OECD estimate that mathematics learning can be reduced by up to 12 months due to anxiety. In 2015, 30% of Scottish pupils aged 15 reported that they felt very tense and nervous when studying maths and 50% thought it would be difficult. This is an on-going trend – anxiety about mathematics has been steadily increasing since 2000. This data, combined with the Scottish Government’s focus on numeracy, lays down an exciting challenge, to increase motivation to study maths, to ease anxiety and to increase attainment. ACC’s Creative Learning, in partnership with the Curriculum Improvement and Support Officer for Numeracy, have been working together with 2 local primary schools to do precisely this.
The success of the project can be measured through the evaluation. 80% of the pupils rated the experience as good to excellent and 77% of the pupils said that they wanted to learn more about maths using dance. Only 6% of the pupils did not respond to the experience. The evaluation of the teachers unanimously agreed that the children were motivated to learn and that their pupils’ knowledge about symmetry and angles was increased or partially increased by participating in the project. Several teachers identified pupils that were previously disengaged with maths took a more active part in learning through dance, noting that it created an opportunity for them to gain in confidence and become more engaged with their learning. Importantly, all the teachers also reported that they had gained confidence in using creative approaches to teaching maths in the classroom and inspired them to undertake more creative projects.