In an innovative approach, a math curriculum based on karate motivates students with rewards showing their “belt” level in math proficiency. The lessons are designed to reflect the discipline and learning style of martial arts lessons. At North Walpole Elementary School, teachers — or should we say, “sensei” — Christine Broadley and Nancy LeClair developed Karate Math this year to help their students improve their fluency with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Students have to know the basics of math to get to higher-level thinking, and if they struggle with those, that makes the next levels all the more difficult, Broadley, who teaches 2nd grade, said.
And so with Karate Math, students can’t earn their next belt until they’ve showed that they’ve mastered the skills required at the previous level. Broadley and LeClair designed nine levels, or belts, with a set of math skills for each grade level attached to each one.
For example, in 3rd grade, to earn a white belt, the first level, students have to know subtraction of zeros, ones, twos and threes.
Students have one minute to answer all 25 questions on a quiz correctly.
Broadley and LeClair are the first to admit they’re no martial arts masters.
“Quite honestly, we’re not even sure if (the belts) align with the real way karate goes,” 3rd-grade teacher LeClair said.
But the analogy between math and martial arts and the idea of advancing up the karate chain has so far kept the students excited and encouraged to study. All of the students at the 2nd- through 4th-grade school are participating in the year-long challenge.
At a kickoff event for the challenge in September, a local kung fu instructor presented to the students and showed them some moves, Broadley said.
“He also talked about perseverance and how karate and math are linked together by having to build your skills to get to the next level,” Broadley said.
The teachers knew they needed to make the challenge fun for the students, so they designed prizes to push students to try for the next level, LeClair said. The first prize is given out after the orange belt (the third level), and is a small necklace with a charm that says “happy wisdom.”
“Which the kids like, but what they love,” she said, drawing out that last word, “is when they reach the blue belt and they get a samurai headband.”
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