Math Meets Mindfulness at Middle School
“OK class, let’s get into our mindfulness positions.”
This is how Laura Marcus began her sixth-grade math class on Wednesday. Her group of nine girls and boys found their desks, perched themselves on their exercise balls (no chairs in this classroom), and paid attention as the teacher began to introduce the mindfulness practice of the day.
The teacher explained what she was about to do and then led the students through the two-minute practice, which guided them through a process of noticing when new thoughts entered their minds. Then, they discussed how they felt about the experience.
The students were quite perceptive, many of them affirming that they were able to notice their thoughts coming and going. One girl said she realized that she was thinking about herself thinking about her thoughts.
Not bad for a sixth grader.
Mindfulness isn’t a topic that is usually taught in math classes, but the current mindfulness movement in the U.S. is becoming more mainstream in many parts of society, including in the classroom.
Laura Marcus has taught sixth and seventh grade math at Dunn Middle School since 2012. This year, she began integrating mindfulness practices at the beginning of all her classes. She also has offered mindfulness electives for Upper School students and is also leading "Mindfulness Mondays" before classes begin for faculty and staff.
“Our schedule can be chaotic for some students. They often come to my classroom after science class, where they may still be excited from setting something on fire just minutes before,” she says. “Taking a few minutes for quiet mediation at the beginning of each class serves as a transition for students to get into a different mindset for learning the logic of math.”
What is mindfulness exactly? “It’s a mental exercise that teaches us to tune into our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and to become fully aware of our experiences,” she explains. “It allows us the freedom to create mental and emotional space in which to formulate appropriate responses to stimuli, therefore lessening their impact on us.”
And she should know. This summer, she completed a yearlong certification program from Mindful Schools, a nonprofit organization that trains teachers to use mindfulness practices in the classroom.
Laura is no newcomer to this world. Her own experience with mindfulness and meditation began ten years ago as part of her yoga practice.
“I found that sitting quietly with myself gave me a chance to sift through challenging thoughts and emotions. It also provides space for self-discovery and creativity,” she says. “I became interested in teaching it to the kids after reading an overwhelming amount of research related to mindfulness practices with youth and the countless positive potential benefits that it may bring into their lives.”
And the results at Dunn School are undeniable, she says. Students settle into her classes much more quickly and are generally calmer and more focused throughout class.
Research compiled by the Mindful Schools organization confirms the results and shows that mindfulness improves attention and focus, teaches emotional regulation, and relieves stress in children, among other benefits.
At least one parent is already seeing the difference. Bob Perez is another math teacher at the Middle School, and his child is in Laura’s class.
“My son likes the mindfulness practices at the beginning of class because it helps him ‘calm his mind down.’ He says he feels better prepared to start class after the mindfulness period. And as a parent, that's music to my ears,” he says.
While mindfulness may be new at Dunn, it is right in line with the experiential approaches to teaching and learning that have long characterized the school's educational experience.
Simon Sweeney, Head of Dunn Middle School, recognizes the benefit of mindfulness in the classroom. "DMS has always been a school where teachers are supported in the implementation of research-based educational approaches to teaching and learning. Laura’s use of mindfulness in the classroom honors this tradition, and it is great to see the positive impact on engagement and self regulation, and ultimately, student success.”
“I'm excited by the opportunity to do this work,” Laura says. “And I'm so grateful to work in a community that supports unconventional ideas and allows me the creativity and flexibility to implement them in my classes.”
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