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Topic: learning styles

Physicalizing Math With Body Music

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

If you’re an educator (math or otherwise) & you’re lucky enough to be in the San Francisco Bay Area next week, my wonderful colleague, Linda Akiyama, is offering some workshops in physicalizing math using body music. I had the pleasure of meeting Linda and experiencing her work in person last year, and her work is a delightful, fun, and deep multisensory way of helping kids learn math and understand it in every cell of their being. (Using rhythms to find least common multiples, anyone?)

If it’s geographically possible for you, go, go, go! And take your friends! Details follow.



Integrating Arts & Academics: Physicalizing Math using Body Music

• Learn Rhythm Blocks, an easy yet effective rhythmic approach for teaching essential math concepts & skills

• Create instructional activities that motivate and inspire your students through arts integration

• Discover how to use Body Music to fully engage your students in math learning and beyond

• Basic Rhythm/Basic Sanity – learn to cultivate calm in the classroom

Tuesday, November 1

San Francisco School
300 Gaven St., SF
4pm-6pm, $25
Terry, Akiyama, Goodkin

Thursday, November 3
First Unitarian Church
685 14th St @ Castro, Oakland
4pm-6pm, $25
Terry, Akiyama, Santi Owen


Keith Terry is the Artistic Director of the IBMF, and has developed a Body Music methodology well-used by classroom and music teachers for a host of applications throughout curricula. Keith has two instructional DVDs on Crosspulse Media, with the third DVD and accompanying book due out in 2012.

Linda Akiyama has 25 years of experience teaching in public elementary schools and has taught science education courses through the SEP program at UCSF. She uses rhythms, chants, and rhymes extensively to support the teaching of academic subjects.

Doug Goodkin teaches music based on Orff Schulwerk to children 3 yrs – 8th grade at The San Francisco School. A director of the prestigious San Francisco Orff Course and author of many books on music education, Doug travels extensively internationally giving courses on Orff Schulwerk.

Jim Santi-Owen has taught for nearly 20 years in public and private schools as a music specialist. Trained by some of the top percussionists in the world, and a certified Orff instructor, Jim is currently the Music Director for the San Francisco World Music Festival where he also directs the Festival’s International Youth Orchestra.

To reserve a space, purchase advance tickets at Tickets also available at the door.

For more information on IBMF concerts and workshops, including a Family Matinee Sunday Nov 6, visit

Topic: learning styles

Is multi-sensory learning hardwired into our humanity?

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I was really struck by Oliver Sacks‘s description of a recovering stroke victim in his June 28th New Yorker article, A Man of Letters.

Sacks describes a letter he received from writer Howard Engel in early 2002. One morning, Howard woke up feeling fine. However, the newspaper now appeared to be printed in a foreign language.


After determining that what he was experiencing wasn’t actually a practical joke, Howard realized he had suffered a stroke. The diagnosis was “alexia sine agraphia”: Howard could still write just fine, but he couldn’t read.

The article insightfully explores how, even though we think reading and writing are part of one seamless whole, they actually involve very different neurological processes. But my favorite part of the article describes Howard’s rehabilitation, which involved keeping a journal of his life in the rehab hospital:

Occasionally, with unusual words or proper names, Howard might be unsure of their spelling—he could not “see” them in his mind’s eye, imagine them, any more than he could perceive them when they were printed before him. Lacking this internal imagery, he had to employ other strategies for spelling. The simplest of these, he found, was to write a word in the air with his finger, letting a motor act take the place of a sensory one.

Increasingly and often unconsciously, Howard started to move his hands as he read, tracing the outlines of words and sentences still unintelligible to his eyes. And most remarkable, his tongue, too, began to move as he read, tracing the shapes of letters on his teeth or on the roof of his mouth. This enabled him to read considerably faster… Thus, by an extraordinary metamodal, sensory-motor alchemy, Howard was replacing reading by a sort of writing. He was, in effect, reading with his tongue.

First, Howard’s determination to regain his ability to read, even through seemingly strange methods, is totally inspiring. But his experience also made me wonder if multi-sensory learning is hardwired into our humanity.

We’re socialized to learn primarily by sitting, listening, reading, and writing with a pen or pencil. Other ways of learning—through song, dance, movement, or writing words in the air with your finger, are frequently regarded as kids’ stuff.

Sure, it’s fine to rap about the multiplication tables, but rapping or singing to remember material isn’t encouraged in during medical or law school! Adults are supposed to learn quietly, politely—invisibly.

Or multi-sensory learning methods are viewed as a back-up plan—something to try when nothing else works, even though active, multi-sensory learning seems to work a lot better than the passive kind.

The relative ease with which Howard, in his late 60s or early 70s, found multi-sensory ways to read again—by tracing words in the air with his finger or moving his tongue as he read—suggests that the instinct to use all of our senses to learn is somehow essential to who we are as human beings.

Three months ago, I acted out what the different parts of the brain cell do with one of my students to help her remember. I still remember the roles of the dendrites, axon, and synapses. If it had been written on a flash card, I probably wouldn’t remember any of it.

What if multisensory learning is actually plan A, and it’s just been socialized out of us?

Image by Lev Yilmaz for NPR.

Related posts:
When in doubt, talk it out
Ana Reynales earns her BA at 82!!
Self-taught hero: Pearl Fryar

Topic: learning styles

When in doubt, talk it out

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Here’s a great new tidbit from my favorite magazine, The Week:

If you find yourself struggling to solve a complex math problem, try working through it out loud, says Scientific American. Psychologists in Spain found that college-level math students who detailed their thinking processes aloud were able to solve the problems faster and with greater accuracy than their silent counterparts.

In the study, quiet and nonquiet students were placed in separate rooms, given problems to solve, and monitored on videotape. The test results confirmed that students who talked aloud, or who drew pictures to map out the problems, scored higher and finished faster.

The researchers aren’t quite sure why this approach works, says psychologist Jose Luis Villegas Castellanos, only that representing a problem verbally or visually clearly offers “more possibilities of finding the right solution.”

This new finding makes me think of all the times in high school that I’d approach my math teacher to ask for help, only to suddenly realize exactly what I needed to do as soon as I started to explain why I was confused. I’d joke with my teachers about how they radiated understanding so I’d just “absorb” it once I was in their force field. But now I’m wondering if it was actually the process of getting ready to tell someone what I didn’t understand that activated my own inner knowledge.

This new finding also potentially explains why tutoring can be so powerful. In most math classes today, students passively receive information by listening to a teacher present the material to the class and then approach math problems in silent solitude at their desk. Talking things through out loud isn’t encouraged.

But in a tutoring situation, students are forced to talk things through out loud with their tutor. Maybe the process of learning to talk things out is as powerful as the process of “getting help” from someone who is more experienced.

I wish that more people were encouraged to talk things out and draw pictures to solve problems in standard math classes.

Topic: learning styles

Tiny Garlic Melons

Friday, January 29th, 2010

This summer, one of my students got to go to Video Game Making Camp. My student explained to me that he wanted to make a video game where you killed vampires by throwing garlic at them. But there was no “garlic” graphic available to build into the game. So he took a graphic of a giant melon and made it so tiny that it looked like a head of garlic!

Part of what I want to teach all my students is how to customize their education when I’m not around. So later in the session, I seized the teachable moment. This particular student has dysgraphia, ADHD, and a really unique brain. I told him that everyone, whether or not they have dysgraphia or ADHD or whatever, has learning situations where they’re not getting what they need. And we all have to learn how to invent our own ways to work around it.

“It’s just like the tiny garlic melons,” I concluded. “Sometimes you don’t get what you want and you have to turn it into what you need.”

So when life gives you melons, make….tiny garlic melons!!!!

Related posts:
A Cosmic Imperative to Customize!
The Downside of Always Telling Students to Try Harder (2)
Ana Reynales earns her BA at age 82

Topic: learning styles

Good Explanation Boxes for Different Learning Styles

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Have you ever looked at the explanation box in your math book and just felt more confused than you did before?

Words: “For any real numbers a and b, if a^2=b, then a is a square root of b.”

Huh? I can tease the definition apart if I slow my reading speed down to about one mile per hour. But usually things make sense to me a lot faster if I see an example.

Example: “Since 5^2 =25, 5 is a square root of 25.”

Phew… so much better!

What I like about Glencoe Mathematics Algebra 2 book is that it includes both kinds of explanations in the explanation box—Words, Example, and when appropriate, Symbols and/or a Model. I love how this maximizes the chances that students can see the kind of explanation that makes sense to their own brain!

For example, I was working with a student from a very progressive high school, but her Algebra 2 book only had verbal explanations, with no symbols or examples. We pulled out the Glencoe book and found the “explanation box” for the concept we were discussing, and it made SO much more sense to her than just the words did.

This book doesn’t go as far as to include examples for tactile or kinesthetic learners (like Math U See does) but it’s definitely a step in the right direction!

Disclaimer: The sequencing in this book has been confusing to many students, so it’s not perfect.

Related Posts: The Best Algebra Book In the World?
I am SO excited about Math U See!

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