Putting math to music

At the POSB Math/Science Institute at Perkins, teachers shared educational innovations they developed for students who are blind

Kate Katulak shows participants dance moves

Perkins teacher Kate Katulak explains the importance of incorporating movement into a lesson. Photo Credit: Anna Miller.

April 21, 2015

Most conferences for teachers of students who are blind and visually impaired don’t include a dance party, but then again most dance moves don’t involve mathematical terms like “quadrant.”

At the Principals of Schools for the Blind (POSB) Math/Science Institute, held April 14-15 at Perkins, more than 70 educators from across the country came together to share best practices and learn about new assistive technology and teaching techniques. 

Six teachers from Perkins hosted break-out sessions, including math teacher Kate Katulak, who asked participants to lace up their dancing shoes and move to the beat of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” in a session on remedial math skills.

“An effective teacher is one who is moving around,” she said. “The more physical activity students experience in a school day the more learning outcomes result. In math, when students engage their bodies in storytelling, it changes the way their minds perceive it.”

To teach concepts like graphing, Katulak devised a series of dance moves that relate to key terms. To do the “x-vine,” students dance horizontally along an imaginary x-axis. For the “quad step,” they step forward and backward, placing a foot in each section of an invisible graph. 

“This method is also really great because it’s teaching body awareness to our students,” Katulak said. “Students with visual impairments sometimes lack basic movement skills – they’re not sure how to move their bodies within their environment. This helps with that.”

Plus, the upbeat music and chance to get silly can make learning more enjoyable for students, she said.

“From the moment they step foot in your classroom you have an opportunity – a responsibility, in my opinion – to impact the way that students feel and, thereby, how they learn,” said Katulak.

Other sessions, speeches and exhibits covered topics like accessible apps, 3-D printers and tactile teaching aids, as well as hot-button educational issues like STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and standardized testing. Participants included administrators and educators from the Maryland School for the Blind, the Mississippi School for the Blind, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and others.

For many teachers in attendance, interacting with other blindness educators was a refreshing change of pace.

“Often, teachers feel isolated and don’t have easy access to other teachers for guidance,” said Betsy McGinnity, director of the training and educational resources program at Perkins. “The goal of the POSB Math/Science Institute is to inspire teachers of the visually impaired and provide them with effective tools and resources to improve their instructional practices.”