A math lesson that relies on dance to teach number patterns is helping raise student scores and increase student engagement in a Virginia school district, reporter Rebecca Jacobson writes in this blog post. Educators are using training they received as part of a local college’s science, technology, engineering and math teacher-preparation program to shake things up in the classroom. It teaches fifth-graders how to break down dance steps, number and graph them, and use this data to predict the number of repetitions needed in a particular song. 

Carrie Lewis and Kelly Steele’s fifth grade students slide and spin across the classroom floor, doing the hustle, the robot, and the running man. While it may look at first glance like goofing off, these students are actually dancing for a higher cause…math.

Lewis, a STEM specialist for Virginia’s Lynchburg city schools, and Steele, who teaches gifted education in Bedford county, Virginia, are both math enthusiasts eager to instill in their students a love of the subject. And dancing, they hoped, might be just the thing to help tackle a common fifth-grade learning deficit — number patterns.

“Dances are patterns,” Lewis said. “We had identified that our students had trouble with patterns and this was a way to get them involved in it.”

Both teachers are part of Sweet Briar College’s STEM teacher education program, where they worked together to design “dance by numbers,” a lesson plan that relies on dance to teach pattern recognition. In the video above, Lewis explains how the lesson works.


The first step was to turn a dance routine into a number pattern. Students logged onto thePillsbury Dough Boy website and watched, studied and deconstructed the cartoon mascot’s six dance moves. They assigned each step a number, and charted the patterns in his dance.

“Once they translated the number to a movement, they began to see how it would be really easy to get a pattern,” Lewis said. “I had them watch ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’ so they could see that they’re just doing the same thing over and over again.”


The students then choreographed their own dance routines. The teachers required that each routine contain at least five moves that repeated at least once. Songs were to be set to instrumental music of the students’ choice — some opted for hip-hop; others for the Mario Bros theme.

Using stopwatches to clock the average time of their routine, students were asked to then calculate how many times their pattern would repeat throughout the course of the song, and thenturn the resulting data into a graph.

“If your song is 100 seconds, how many repetitions will you do of your dance?,” Steele said. “If you use the extended version of your dance, 200 seconds, how many repetitions do you need to do? They are using their graph to figure that information out.”