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Education Reporter

Dancing for Digits?
Gyrating students are latest math fad
KANSAS CITY, MO - Amid the still-raging math wars, teachers at some elementary schools in the Kansas City area have introduced dance as a method of instruction. Students count rhythms, form lines, and twist their bodies into angles and shapes. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (11-23-00) reported that the new programs are partly based on the concept of multiple capabilities, also called intelligences, that were identified in a Harvard University study in 1983. The findings purportedly showed that some students learn best through movement.

Dance instructor Harlan Brownlee told the Post that he "had a high school class memorizing the quadratic formula" by re-creating it with their bodies. "They worked as a group to create the symbols," he explained, which made the formula "easier to remember."

Kansas City's Troubled Schools 
Some parents and citizens question whether learning will ever improve for students in Kansas City's public schools. Despite the two billion taxpayer dollars that poured into the district over 23 years of court-ordered desegregation, the system lost its state accreditation in 1999. The money was primarily spent on magnet schools and state-of-the-art facilities, while curriculum and teacher quality lagged.

Education Week (4-26-00) reported that, during the accreditation evaluation, the school district "failed every one of 11 indicators" in the "performance" category, which examines student test scores, dropout and attendance rates, and measures of college and vocational preparation. Kansas City School Board Treasurer Helen Ragsdale lamented: "We're not any better off than we were 23 years ago."

The per-pupil cost of educating a child in the Kansas City school system at the height of the desegregation program was $10,000. Many parents are now asking, "How good a school does $10,000 per student buy?"

Parents Battle 'Fuzzy' Math 
Last April, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), while failing to go as far as many critics would have liked in emphasizing basic skills, nonetheless admitted the importance of students' getting "the right answer." (See Education Reporter, May 2000.) Curriculum changes, however, may be slow in coming, especially in view of the U.S. Department of Education's ringing endorsement in October 1999 of 10 "fuzzy" math programs.

Meanwhile, parents from New York City to Chicago to Plano, Texas continue battling new new or "fuzzy" math. New York City parents complained to the New York Times (5-4-00) that their children are being taught "strategies that don't work," forcing them to hire tutors. An editorial on "new new math" in the Chicago Tribune (5-15-00) decried the "New-Age-sounding territory in which students are 'linking past experience to new concepts, sharing ideas, and developing concept readiness through hands-on exploration.'" The editorial described one 2nd grade exercise that "has students thinking up a lunch, drawing it on paper and cutting out the foods, all in the name of learning division."

As for the dancing pupils in Kansas City, educators claim two things are happening: "The kids have fun and they learn something about dance and math."

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