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Teaching assistant uses contra dance to bring math lesson to life (PHOTOS)


Inspired teaching and learning are hallmarks of an Ohio University education, and one OHIO educator has developed an innovative way of engaging his students by incorporating a form of dance into his lesson plans.

Javier Ronquillo Rivera is a doctoral student in OHIO’s Department of Mathematics, serves as a teaching assistant in mathematics education courses and is involved in the Division of Theater’s production of “Marathon ’33.” Earlier this month, Ronquillo Rivera transformed his classroom in OHIO’s Morton Hall into a dance hall where he used contra dance to illustrate a lesson in his mathematics for elementary educators class.

“Sometimes people need lessons outside of just sitting in a seat and looking at the board,” Ronquillo Rivera explained. “It’s good to get up and moving.”

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Javier Ronquillo Rivera, an OHIO graduate student and teaching assistant, and student Abigail Morgan demonstrate the art of contra dance during Ronquillo Rivera’s Feb. 13 mathematics for elementary educators class.

A partnered American folk dance style in which couples dance in facing parallel lines, contra dance is considered a part of Appalachian culture. It is similar to square dance, using a “caller” to announce the next steps and incorporating some of the same moves such as the do-si-do and the promenade.

Ronquillo Rivera decided to bring this form of dance into his classroom as a means of showing his students how to teach their future pupils about the mathematical concept of inversion. During the class, students had to figure out a series of dance moves that would result in them returning to their initial dance position.

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Students Alexa Johnson and Mackenzie Tracy reach out to each other while trying to solve a math problem using contra dance.

“Even though some people come to class and go through the lessons, they aren’t really comfortable with math,” Ronquillo Rivera said when explaining why he opts to approach math in this unconventional way. “I think this helps people become more comfortable with math.”

Ronquillo Rivera’s students embraced the lesson with enthusiasm.

“This was a great way to show how teachers can get students up and involved in fun activities while still learning,” said Alexis Riffer, a sophomore in Ronquillo Rivera’s class who is pursuing a degree in middle childhood education.

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Abigail Morgan and Madison Baumer do a turn while contra dancing during their mathematics for educators class on Feb. 13.

The Feb. 13 class wasn’t the first time Ronquillo Rivera has used contra dance to teach a math lesson. He has conducted similar lessons with the Math League of Southeast Ohio, a superhero-themed local math circle for students in grades 6-9 that Ronquillo Rivera and Bob Klein, an OHIO associate professor of mathematics, co-founded last year. Ronquillo Rivera has also led another contra dance lesson with the Southeast Ohio Math Teachers’ Circle.

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Students in Javier Ronquillo Rivera’s mathematics for elementary educators class line up in Room 126 of Morton Hall for a lesson in contra dance that Ronquillo Rivera uses to show his students an innovative way of teaching mathematical concepts.

Ronquillo Rivera and Klein plan on taking the lessons on math and contra dance on the road over Spring Break. They will be sharing their lessons with the Albuquerque Math Teachers’ Circle as well as with students and teachers on the Navajo Nation. Klein serves as co-director of the Navajo Nation Math Circle Project.