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News & AwardsMathematical Association of America Reviews “Clap, Drum, and Shake It!”

January, 2013  |  Mathematical Association of America

Learning math through the arts… Moby Snoodles approves! So I was happy to review two books from Marcia Daft’s Moving Through Math project. (The other is Meadow Count.) They are read-aloud books for kids and their grown-ups. Both books are illustrated in a distinctive, memorable manner that reminded me of early Japanese watercolors. Of math education aspects, I found notes to parents to be most distinctive and memorable. After these strong books, you can graduate from “What?” (what entities and actions were in the book) – to “So what?” (your new understanding of the world)!

Clap, Drum, and Shake it! uses iconic symbols, such as clapping hands or shaking maracas, to form pattern units. Kids perform each movement as they get to that symbol in the sequence. Kids then repeat the unit to form the pattern.

Unitizing is the foundation of multiplicative and proportional reasoning. Kids need to work and play with units a lot, such as repeating parts of songs and dances. A kid who thinks of any unit as a single building block is well on the way to the idea of variables.

Thumbs up!
• The book uses iconic symbols – that is, pictures that show what to do. Iconic symbols help kids transition toward abstract symbols. Iconic symbols are accessible even to babies. You can move the baby in your lap as you play through the book and point out its symbols.

• The relatively advanced idea of pattern units is introduced qualitatively (without numbers) first. This helps learners to form a strong, grounded foundation for the idea. Qualitative intros work for learners of any age, but are absolutely necessary for young kids.

• The book invites children to, “Look for patterns in the air, look for patterns on the ground.” For example, feet walking left, right, left, right, or wings flying up, down, up, down. Inviting kids on pattern scavenger hunts helps them notice many aspects and details of this topic, makes the topic stick in memory, and integrates math with the everyday world of learners.

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