Teachers learn dance moves for math lessons as part of innovative program hosted by FSU’s Opening Nights

Florida State University’s Opening Nights and Leon County Schools teamed up this week to offer elementary and middle school teachers a creative new tool to teach math, in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education program.

About 40 teachers attended “Math Dance” workshops at FSU to learn dance moves that can be used in class to help students acquire math skills.

Stacy Weaver, a performing arts teacher who leads the dance program at Raa Middle School in Tallahassee, said she learned that dance can help teach geometry, algebra, ratios and more.

“I honestly thought geometry was about the only way you could mesh the two together, but I learned I can teach my students about fractions, ratios and all kinds of areas,” Weaver said. “I want my dance students to be whole students, excelling in math and other subjects.”

The free workshops on June 11 and 12 were led by Karl Schaffer, a modern-day Renaissance man with a doctorate in math and expertise as a dancer, who uses both to teach math a different way.

Schaffer, a member of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Teaching Artists, created “Math Dance” because he saw how choreographed dance made math concepts come alive. The faculty member of De Anza College in Cupertino, California, discovered math lessons were more exciting and memorable when students acted out the concepts.

“We want teachers to come away with a sense that there is a wealth of mathematics embedded in dance,” Schaffer said. “The two are very closely connected, and hopefully the participants will see those connections and understand how to use them for their work with students.”

The workshops offered practical tools on how to teach this innovative approach to math education. Participants learned techniques to teach concepts, such as patterns and symmetry, through creative movement.

“Each aspect that we worked on taught broad perspectives of how to use these skills in multiple areas, such as math or science,” said Christopher Small, principal of Raa Middle School.

The mission of Opening Nights Performing Arts at Florida State University is to engage people in creative experiences that educate, illuminate and inspire.

“Opening Nights is committed to expanding its educational and community outreach,” said Michael Blachly, director of Opening Nights at Florida State University. “We are pleased to partner with Leon County Schools to offer teachers continuing education programs that incorporate the performing arts to help them better prepare their students for the future.”

Teachers from Cobb Middle School, Raa Middle School, Maclay School, The School of Arts and Sciences at The Centre, Tallahassee School of Math and Sciences, W.T. Moore Elementary School and Apalachee Tapestry Magnet School of the Arts participated in the “Math Dance” workshops.