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Photo: Thomas Armour Youth Ballet
An unusual ballet company in Miami provides ballet, reading, math and etiquette classes along with access to mental health professionals as needed.

In the fall, my younger granddaughter will start ballet lessons in Rhode Island. “I’m going to be on the stage,” she announced to my neighbor. I’m not sure what, at age 4, ballet classes mean to her, but they have a mighty big aura.

In Miami, an unusual ballet company has been growing an even bigger aura. Thomas Armour Youth Ballet offers dance lessons, yes, but as I learned from this Miami Herald article by Rodolfo Roman, its goals extend well beyond dance.

“When sports journalist Claudia Chang Trejos faced a difficult period in her life, an after-school ballet program helped her overcome obstacles.

“Now, her daughter, Glades Middle School student Sophia Chang Trejos, 14, is following her mother, attending the after-school program at the Thomas Armour Youth Ballet in South Miami.

“The program provides ballet, reading, math and etiquette classes along with access to mental health professionals [and] delivers professionally taught dance classes in multiple genres, at little or no cost to 500 students ages 5-11.

” ‘When she started, I was going through a nasty divorce,’ Claudia said. ‘We were broke. I had no one to help me out with Sophia, so this was a place she could go to, and go with her peers. I went to work and I had a peace of mind.’ …

“ ‘Ballet is not for everybody,’ said Sophia, who credits the program with her getting into the New World School of Arts, the Miami-Dade arts magnet high school, where she will start in the fall.

“ ‘You can start when you are 4 and love it, but when you grow, the technique gets harder and that’s when people quit. What I like about ballet is it’s a different way to train a person. I like the music and the way people are when you are dancing. It is like a movie.’ …

“Director Ruth Wiesen said the program’s goal is to be a vehicle of success.

“ ‘Every now and then, I step back and I am shocked we are able to see these kids succeed and coming back to Miami,’ she said. ‘That is the biggest thrill. They come back, settle down and act like role models.’ …

“No matter what her future holds, Sophia said the program will always have a place in her heart.

“ ‘I plan on coming back when I am older, and teach classes to give back,’ she said.”

More at the Miami Herald, here.

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I’ve read before about inventive approaches to teaching math — and my daughter-in-law, who coaches teachers of math, probably knows most of them. But recently, the Washington Post examined a new method, one that uses dance.

Reporter Moriah Balingit described observing a kindergarten game that “actually was a serious math lesson about big and small and non-standard measurements. Dreamed up by [drama teacher Melissa] Richardson and kindergarten teacher Carol Hunt, it aims to get the children to think of animal steps as units of measurement, using them to mark how many it takes each animal to get from a starting line to the target.

“[Today] teachers are using dance, drama and the visual arts to teach a variety of academic subjects in a more engaging way. …

“The Wolf Trap Institute, based at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, brought Richardson to Westlawn Elementary through a program that pairs art teachers with early-childhood educators to formulate math lessons. The program also provides professional development to teachers.

“And the program appears to have been effective: A study by the American Institutes for Research found that students in classes headed by Wolf Trap-trained teachers performed better on math assessments than did their peers being taught by teachers who were not in the program. …

“Researcher Mengli Song said the students in the program did not necessarily learn additional math content but they did demonstrate a better grasp of the material. And the effect was comparable to other early-childhood interventions. …

“Jennifer Cooper, director of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, said arts integration — particularly lessons where children get to move and play — is a good way to reach a lot of children who struggle with traditional book lessons.

“ ‘By embodying a concept . . . and putting it through your body in a multi-sensory way, you’re going to reach a lot of different kinds of learners,’ Cooper said.”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
Teaching artist Melissa Richardson, right, from the Wolf Trap Institute, watches her kindergarten students at Westlawn Elementary School take large bear steps during a math lesson in Falls Church, Va.

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Where was mime-matics when I was a child convinced I was bad at math? Pretty sure I would have changed my mind after a few laughs at this comedy show.

Robert Strauss describes it for the New York Times.

“Without saying a word, a man walks on stage carrying a case full of small plungers. Each time he reaches in the case to take some plungers out, he tries to array them in order on a table in front of him, but he always has one left over. Five, seven, 13: No matter what number, there is still that one left alone, and the man gets visibly, but silently, more exasperated at each turn.

“The man is a mime named Tim Chartier, whose day job is associate professor in the department of mathematics and computer science at Davidson College in North Carolina. The plunger skit and many others that he and his wife, Tanya, have developed are part of their Mime-matics business. Having learned from the master of the craft, Marcel Marceau, they use their skills in mime to teach mathematics in a decidedly unconventional way. …

“At Davidson, he teaches a course called Finite Math, which often fills the math/science requirement for history and English majors.

“ ‘It is probably the last time these students will ever take a math course, so I see myself as the last chance they have to have a good experience with math,’ he said. ‘On the first day, I tell them that many of them will one day sit at a table where their kid will ask whether he or she should like math and science. I tell them I want them to get one story to tell that kid that will be positive in the next 16 weeks. It is an important moment in that class. They start looking for a good experience.’

“The Chartiers, who themselves have two children, 8 and 12, said they wanted their approach to Mime-matics to deliver the same positive experience. Even when they perform at colleges, the audiences are filled with children and their parents.

“ ‘Kids start laughing at the sketches and that frees up their parents, who might have long been afraid of math. The kids break the ice,’ said Ms. Chartier, who added that she particularly wants to fight the perception that math is for boys and writing is for girls, and hopes that Mime-matics entices girls to become more attracted to math.” More here.

Photo: Andy McMillan for The New York Times
Tim Chartier practicing a skit. He and his wife perform at colleges, math conferences, festivals and schools across the country.
 

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Holmes-School-Dorchester-MaA new employee goes to the Oliver Wendell Holmes School in Dorchester with the team I’m on. He can’t get over how great it is to work for an organization that gives you time to do this. We go out once a month from January to June, and other teams go once a month so that we cover every week.

I started eight years ago with the team that read picture books to a room of first graders. Then I read for a few years with fifth or fourth graders who received chapter books from the librarian. These were students whose teachers thought they would appreciate the extra reading. We all read aloud, with the adult volunteers only taking a turn if the story seemed to lag.

Holmes is a minority-majority urban school with many dedicated teachers who are tolerant of the extra work it takes to herd volunteers. (We also have volunteers who work on math.)

This year, the team I’m on includes the woman who started the whole relationship with Holmes 20 years ago and is now retired. We are assigned to read copies of printed passages and help the children answer multiple-choice questions from tests they have had in the past.

Given the current nationwide emphasis on testing and these third graders’ tendency to keep guessing wildly, I consider it my role to focus on the thought process and deemphasize getting the right answer. I ask, Why do you think that’s the answer? How did you get there?

The administrators often tell us that we make a difference. We’re probably just a drop in the bucket. But, you know, One and One and 50 Make a Million.

More employers should make it so easy to improve the world in which they operate. Other employees probably spend the hour and a half it takes to go out, tutor, and get back once a month in less valuable ways.

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Catch this story on National Public Radio today?

Jake Scott, a math teacher and wrestling coach in Silver Spring, Maryland, draws students in with clever ways to memorize formulas.

“Keeping control of the class is one thing, but holding their attention through complicated calculations and theorems is another challenge altogether. So Scott gets a little extra help from his alter ego, 2 Pi.

“About three years ago, Scott started infusing rap into his lessons.”

He describes to NPR’s David Greene his early lack of success in school, his time on the streets, the help he received from taking up wrestling, and the reasons he eventually got into math.

” ‘You know, when my dad lost his sight, I started doing accounting for him, and math was the one area that I was able to succeed in,’ Scott says. ‘Because of my time in the streets, my vocabulary wasn’t very extensive, and so I shied away from English. I was bored to death by history. Math, on the other hand — I didn’t need to know how to speak well in order to do well in math, so that was very helpful, when I look back. It helped me to grow in my appreciation for numbers.’

“Scott says that one of his most important goals as a teacher is to make meaningful connections with his students. This drive to connect with the kids in his classroom influenced him to begin rapping as 2 Pi.

” ‘I mean, I think that we can preach to kids until they turn blue and we turn blue, but if there’s no connection, then there’s no response,’ Scott says. ‘I mean, I constantly search for ways to connect with students — with the language, with conversations, music.” Read more here.

 

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The Puritan thinker Roger Williams got fed up with the rigid Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and went off to found the state of Rhode Island and advocate for freedom of religion.

Recently Lucas Mason-Brown, a Brown University math major, worked with a small group of undergraduates to crack the shorthand code Williams used while making notes.

According to Martine Powers in today’s Boston Globe, here, translation of the notes was an achievement that had resisted scholars for centuries. No major insights about Roger Williams were revealed, but some were confirmed.

For example, the notes show that Williams was against baptizing Indian children — a new example of how adamantly he opposed pressure to convince anyone of any religious belief.

In an earlier AP article in the Herald Online, Erika Niedowski writes, “College history professor emeritus J. Stanley Lemons and others at Brown started trying to unravel the so-called ‘Mystery Book’ a few years ago. But the most intense work began this year after the university opened up the challenge to undergraduates, several of whom launched an independent project.

” ‘No one had ever looked at it systematically like this in generations,’ Widmer said. ‘I think people probably looked at it and shrugged.’

“Senior math major Lucas Mason-Brown, who has done the majority of the decoding, said his first instinct was to develop a statistical tool. The 21-year-old from Belmont, Mass., used frequency analysis, which looks at the frequency of letters or groups of letters in a text, but initially didn’t get far.

“He picked up critical clues after learning Williams had been trained in shorthand as a court stenographer in London, and built his own proprietary shorthand off an existing system. Mason-Brown refined his analysis and came up with a rough key.” Read more.

AP Photograph
The preface page of the Mystery Book from Brown University’s John Carter Brown Library. Lucas Mason-Brown, a senior mathematics major, helped crack a mysterious shorthand code developed and used by religious dissident Roger Williams in the 17th century. The handwritten code surrounds the printed text on the preface page.

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