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What PILATES can teach you about good MATHS teaching

During Covid Lockdowns I explored, as maybe many of you did, online exercise options!

I decided on Pilates.

During this process I experienced what it’s like to be the learner and not the teacher.

Can you relate to any of these learning experiences …?


One of the instructors I liked the best would encourage her viewers with this line: “Do this little and often to see results".

When she said that I immediately thought, ”That’s what I teach about numeracy warm-up routines and number sense!”

If we repeat numeracy routines regularly (preferably daily) we will see improved results for our students too.

The ‘little and often’ sessions in Pilates helped me see improvements in my fitness which encouraged me to keep going. Just as short, regular number sense routines will help our students see improvement in their skills and encourage them to keep persisting with Mathematics!

START LOW & SLOW: I needed to start ‘low and slow’ to build my confidence. When I stumbled across a Pilates lesson that was far beyond my ability level I would either be quite discouraged or fall way behind. I would perform each movement so badly that I couldn’t possibly gain any benefit from it. But when I was working at a level that I could achieve at I was motivated, not only by ‘nailing the move’, but by seeing improvements in my strength and flexibility.

Poor instructors (well they were poor for me as they weren’t meeting me where I was at!) would have no ‘entry-level’ options that I could achieve success with - see multi-levels below . There’s nothing quite like success to increase engagement and to build enthusiasm to keep persisting.

EXPLICIT INSTRUCTION: I liked my instructor to be very clear and very calm when giving instructions. I appreciated when their verbal explanation was linked to a visual demonstration. If they modelled the pose first before introducing it in a routine that was even better.

Similarly, explicit instruction is effective in a maths lesson. If the teacher models the strategy and shares their thinking using maths language, while demonstrating with appropriate concrete materials and/or visual models, students have a far higher chance of 'getting it'.

To add ‘insult to injury’ a poor pilates teacher would complete their routine at great speed without any time for me to catch up. I’d still be trying to work out the first routine while they’d be onto the next…. Can you see the parallels to a Maths lesson or curriculum/program that is rushed? It provides little to no opportunity to learn, let alone consolidate a skill…? Explicit instruction allows for repetition and consolidation of learning.

MULTI-LEVELS OF ACTIVITY: We know differentiation in the classroom is powerful and necessary and I experienced it first-hand doing Pilates!

Instructors who didn’t differentiate weren’t able to keep me engaged, either because they didn’t provide any options to extend my skills… or because they went straight to an advanced level with a presumption that they were leading a class of experts!

One of the best instructors I came across would demonstrate the move and then incorporate it into a routine that was completed slowly the first time. She would also demonstrate variations of a move from “Level 1” and maybe even up to a “Level 4” variation! If I was feeling strong and brave, I would try and push myself to the next level, but if I couldn’t do it I would return to what I could achieve. This meant I could stay participating in the class and not feel a failure.

This applies to a maths lesson too. All students should have an opportunity to participate in the demonstration and discussion at all levels and be encouraged to attempt a harder level of activity. This is why heterogeneous groups have proved so beneficial to all levels of students. Students get to see what is possible and to hear various strategies explained as their peers justify their mathematical thinking and use their maths language. Students can find it easier to understand a peer's explanation than a teacher's.

RELEVANCE: When I was learning a new Pilates move, I appreciated the instructors who were careful to explain, demonstrate, and give me a reason to incorporate the particular move into my routine. If I learned that it was important to hold my arms in a certain position because it was going to strengthen my shoulders or would help me avoid injury then I would be even more focused on ‘getting it right’.

The same applies to learners of Mathematics. If students can understand what they’re doing and why it helps them ‘stick with it’… even if it’s difficult at first. Being able to use mathematical skills and thiking in 'real life' is an important aspect of being numerate. It's important for teachers to consider and to discuss with their students when they will 'use' the maths they are learning to solve problems in daily living or their careers.

What I learned about teaching mathematics from my pilates instructors:

  • Good teachers started low and slow (entry-level) and gave me explicit instruction on what to do and how to do it.

  • They allowed time for me to gain confidence but also showed me what was possible.

  • They gave me reasons for being careful and accurate in what I was doing and when it would help me in my daily life.

  • They provided regular opportunity to revisit skills so I could see improvements which encouraged me to keep learning and putting in the effort.

Can you recall a time you've learned a new skill? What made it enjoyable for you? What made it difficult? Share your experiences below.

Maybe as we recall our experiences of being a learner we can develop as a maths teacher...?


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