On a recent tour of the grades at Boulder Valley Waldof School, popping into the 3rd Grade Classroom revealed children learning their times tables through jump rope! I couldn’t help but reflect on my own 3rd Grade experience in public school, filled with memorization through worksheets and timed multiplication tests. High performers would get a gold star next to their name up on the board at the front of the classroom. I envied those with the most stars and remember being filled with anxiety, palms sweating and heart racing as the times test sat face down on my desk, waiting for the teacher to say, “Begin!”, and start the clock. What I would have given in those moments to trade in that stressful testing for jump roping! Needless to say, math was not my favorite subject.
Not only is jump roping times tables fun, but this whole body movement can actually contribute to higher achievement levels in math. A February 2017 study, “Motor-Enriched Learning Activities Can Improve Mathematical Performance in Preadolescent Children”, provides evidence that motor-enriched learning can have positive impacts on mathematical performance. Similarly, a study published this month (March 2019), “The effects of arts-integrated instruction on memory for science content”, shows strong evidence that inclusion of the arts can contribute to improved learning and memory outcomes in science. The Waldorf pedagogy supports student learning by incorporating both movement and arts into main lessons.
Furthermore, a growing body of research that looks at the relationship between academic outcomes and stress is strengthening the argument for what scientists are calling “stress bias”. It is hypothesized that stress, whether created by a home environment or a high-stakes test, impedes cognitive functioning and reduces student achievement. An article from Harvard Graduate School of Education references a working paper from The National Bureau of Economic Research, focusing on cortisol levels in students from New Orleans charter school. A commentary piece from Education Week focuses specifically on the impacts of timed testing, referencing multiple studies, including “Math Anxiety: Personal, Educational, and Cognitive Consequences” and “The Neurodevelopmental Basis of Math Anxiety”. While more research is needed in the realm of stress bias, I think it is safe to say there is certainly wisdom within the Waldorf way.
Ashcraft, Mark H. “Math Anxiety: Personal, Educational, and Cognitive Consequences.” Mercer County
Community College, Oct. 2002, www.mccc.edu/~jenningh/Courses/documents/math_anxiety.pdf. Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.
Beck, Mikkel M., et al. “Motor-Enriched Learning Activities Can Improve Mathematical Performance in Preadolescent Children.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 23 Dec. 2016, doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00645. Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.
Bergland, Christopher. “Motor Skills, Movement, and Math Performance Are Intertwined.” Psychology Today, 10 Feb. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201702/motor-skills-movement-and-math-performance-are-intertwined. Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.
Boaler, Jo. “Timed Tests and the Development of Math Anxiety.” Education Week, 3 July 2012, www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/07/03/36boaler.h31.html. Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.
Hardiman, Mariale M., et al. “The Effects of Arts-Integrated Instruction on Memory for Science Content.” Trends in Neuroscience and Education, vol. 14, Mar. 2019. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.tine.2019.02.002. Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.
Klass, Perri. “Using Arts Education to Help Other Lessons Stick.” The New York Times, 4 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/04/well/family/using-arts-education-to-help-other-lessons-stick.html. Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.
Tatter, Grace. “Tests and Stress Bias: Strengthening the Correlation between Student Stress Levels and High-Stakes Tests.” Usable Knowledge: Relevant Research for Today’s Educators, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 12 Feb. 2019, www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/19/02/tests-and-stress-bias. Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.