Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Dance Steps to Solving and Equation- The Lesson

I generally do this lesson after I've taught solving equations entirely. At that point there are at least a few students that get really overwhelmed by the process, and I've found that this helps them to break it down into steps (and to actually remember what those steps are) and it's just a heck of a lot of fun for everyone.

The day before the lesson I tell students that their homework is to remember to NOT bring their bookbags to class the next day. (Otherwise we wouldn't have room).  At the beginning of the period, I race to get all the desks stacked on the sides of my room to clear a nice dance area for everyone.  Then, I give them this speech:

"Today is a math fun day.  I *absolutely* guarantee that if you don't act "too cool" for this lesson that you'll have fun.  In fact, this will most likely be the most fun you ever have in math class!"  Cutting the too cool kids off at the pass right up front has always worked for me, and was my biggest fear before ever doing this lesson. (I also tell them participation is mandatory)  I then stick my arms out and swing them back and forth and tell them that they need to be able to do that without hitting anyone so they have space.  I start the beat, and sing the intro, then put the lyrics on the board with the smart screenshade hiding the moves we haven't done yet.

From there, the lesson goes pretty much like this:

After they are able to do the dance with some proficiency, I speed it up 10% and keep speeding it up each successive time until it all ultimately falls apart.  Then, I have them grab a desk and go get their backpacks and work on a sheet of difficult equations to solve, telling them to think about the song as the go along.  When they ask questions, I pretty much just prompt them with song lyrics.

Here are some important tips:
  • You should definitely try this lesson if at all reasonable.  I'm fairly certain you could throw this lesson inside 179 other days of teaching like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day off and kids would still think your class was fun.
  • The video is only 3:49, but the dance part of the lesson actually takes me 15 minutes (and an extra few moving desks out and back in).  So, if you are to use the video above to teach the lesson I would highly suggest pausing and going back a lot to give kids time to really learn it.
  • I'd suggest writing the lyrics on a side board even though they are in the video so that it's easier for the kids to follow.
  • If you use the instructional video, I would still highly suggest doing the dance along with them.  If you are too cool to dance, they probably will be too.
  • Call them out as a group if some kids aren't singing along, I think sometimes they honestly get so wrapped up in the dance they think they are singing along when they aren't.
  • Have some sweet moves prepared for the check portion.(I like the lawnmower or the shopping cart)
Video files (right click to download):
Dance Steps instructional video (High Quality, 110 megs)
Dance Steps instructional video (Low Quality, 30 megs)

Audio Files (right click to download):
The beat (play it in a continuous loop)
Audio of the full song
Faster full song
Even faster full song
Fastest full song


  1. This is just fantastic.
    An excellent example of a teacher removing barriers in the classroom and taking it on the chin to enhance learning.
    I've used songs before to consolidate learning or to engage the pupils but I've never been brave enough to sing along nevermind get dancing.
    Well done!

    Steph Disbury

  2. Yeah I'm going to need to see a video of both the lawn mower and the shopping cart.

    j/k. This cheered me up after a rough Open House. Thank you.

  3. hi! cool blog!!!

  4. I love this! I'm teaching this in two weeks and I have even involved our dance teacher! I added a line at the beginning to help remember to clear the fractions first.

    First you clear your fractions,
    So you do the CLAW action.

    (Claw aka distribute)
    Thanks so much for all of the resources that you added to this page. It is much easier (and more fun) to teach with music! I can't wait to dance this in class!

  5. Thanks for the links. You ROCK!

  6. This is both heroic and sheer genius -- a combination of Indiana Jones and whoever Indiana Jones wishes he could dance like.

    I am going to use this with my most jaded, hardened, and cynical Algebra 1 students because the coolest students in the class are all in the dance program (I teach at an arts high school) and the other kids will probably follow because the dancers can't stop themselves from dancing.

    Thank you for sharing your genius and getting the kids engaged.

    - Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  7. I really want to try this in my 6th grade classroom. The link to the video no longer works. Is there a way your could send it to me? Thanks

    <3 Laura

  8. Nevermind found you on YOUTUBE!! SO excite to use this

  9. Love this - thank you so much - am working with some teachers who found geometry students lacking in this skill and didn't know how to help them! As a former English teacher, I kinda wish you'd pronounce "distribute" right, but...... that would make the rhyme not as smooth. Overall, love what you've done - keep it up!