By Yanaëlle Thiran
Children are excellent at asking ‘why?’ Their thirst for knowledge knows no border, their creativity no curfew. Encouraging this questioning can help them carve an ever-evolving, in-depth understanding of the world. So how do we, as maths and dance educators, cultivate their curiosity?
In Maths Dance’s Mighty Maths Makers pack, each lesson plan specifies what to do, when and how. Our mission as facilitators is to help children uncover the why, also known as lesson aim. This why is a driving force. It shapes both the macro and micro structures of our lessons, which are all related to the primary maths curriculum.
‘Why are we jumping and turning today?’ – ‘Because that will help us understand fractions.’
Whiteboard used in a Mighty Maths Makers Club, January 2020.
Once I find a coherent and captivating why, I introduce it in the warm-up, develop it in exploratory activities and encourage children to discuss it further when they share creative outcomes with each other. For example, wondering why it takes 4 jump turns to complete a full rotation ignites their interest and sends them on a mission where every activity happens for a reason. While they weave their way through unexplored areas of knowledge, I list key words on a whiteboard. That way, they have a toolbox to refer back to when working on tasks. Not only will they identify quarter turns, half turns and full turns; they will also apply these words to the making of their own movement patterns.
Demonstrating different kinds of turns.
Providing a coherent thread throughout the lesson and making this reasoning explicit has the added perk of improving behaviour. So, when reminding a child to watch me or a peer carefully, I add ‘because in a minute, we are going to discuss what you just saw’ or ‘because next, you will do this movement pattern by yourself’. My aim is to empower participants by pointing out why the input required of them will benefit their own learning.
Why would anyone focus on a task if they didn’t see the point of it? In a world where everything is at our fingertips, many adults scroll to the next thing as soon as they lose interest. If attention span is indeed decreasing, sustaining focus should perhaps be trained or regained like stamina.
On that note, I encourage you to read on. So far, I highlighted the importance of explaining why your learners should bother. Now, why not give them the agency to find out for themselves? My suggestion is to sprinkle sessions with clues and encourage children to connect different activities within and across lessons. In the twenty-first century, skills like creativity and the ability to connect knowledge from various sources are well worth building.
As I keep questioning and rediscovering the power of patterns or the beauty of symmetry, I enable eager little learners to seize the possibility of asking further and finding out more, one ‘why?’ at a time. But why would they care if they didn’t feel cared for? This opens a topic for another article. Children in our programmes are Mighty Maths Makers because, as individual learners, they know why they matter.
Thanks to Shivaangee Agrawal for proofreading this article.