Arts-Based Approaches to Mathematics Instruction in the Junior Classroom

Area(s) of Focus: math
Division(s): Junior
Level(s): Grade 6

Exploring the arts as a vehicle for mathematics learning and addressing issues of social justice and equity in the junior mathematics class.

We investigated how to embed arts-based learning experiences into a comprehensive math program in order to provide additional ways of differentiating instruction to meet student needs. We explored the ways in which integrating dance, visual art and music into the mathematics program impact students’ abilities to make their thinking visible. By providing opportunities to demonstrate understandings through the arts, we deepened our knowledge of assessment for, as and of learning, as well as our learners.

Team Members

  • Robyn Ecclestone

    York Region District School Board

  • Sarah Hill

    York Region District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  •  investigate the power of professional collaboration on impacting student achievement
  • expand instructional repertoires to continue to differentiate instruction and assessment based on student needs and strengths
  • deepen understanding of a comprehensive math program that comprises inquiry-based investigations, explicit instruction, games and experiential tasks
  • enhance knowledge of assessment practices for, as and of learning to provide in-depth knowledge about individual student’s learning needs

Activities and Resources

  • We co-planned, co-taught, co-debriefed and co-reflected on a number of math lessons in a Grade 6 classroom.
  • We continued learning about the social justice issues during literacy learning.
  • We shared and collaborated with colleagues from across the board.
  • We shared our learning by giving a presentation in the pre-service teacher education program at York University.

Unexpected Challenges

Getting the release time finalized and the money to purchase resources was significantly delayed and, therefore, delayed the start of our project. Further, engaging in this work while still maintaining alignment with grade partners was an unexpected challenge, but was overcome by collaboration and teamwork.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

This work allowed students different entry points into the content, both the mathematical concepts and the social justice issues addressed. It allowed them to apply mathematical concepts to real-life issues about which they were required to think critically. Finally, students’ senses of community within the classroom were deepened.


In addition to working with and mentoring teachers in the board who are looking to embed issues of equity into their pedagogies through a regional inquiry project, which has already started, we will share our learning at the school level later this year or in the fall of next year at staff and division meetings. If possible, we will share our learning at regional or provincial conferences or forums.

Project Evaluation

Our project was an unmitigated success. The following were our indicators of success:

  • students with a solid understanding of the math concepts developed a deeper, more nuanced understanding as they applied them to different concepts
  • students with an emerging understanding of the math concepts developed a solid grasp
  • students deepened their understanding of how mathematics impacts the lives of individuals on local and global scales
  • students developed a deeper appreciation for one another’s strengths as approaching instruction through the arts allowed different students to excel

Reflecting on our learning journey, we would have liked to follow the students’ interests more, and also have tried to link this learning to other math strands. Finally, we would like to incorporate more music as we continue this learning next year.

Resources Used

Aguirre, Julia, Karen Mayfield-Ingram and Danny Martin. The Impact of Identity in K-8 Mathematics: Rethinking Equity-Based Practices.

This book invites kindergarten to Grade 8 teachers to reflect on their own and their students’ multiple identities. Rich possibilities for learning result when teachers draw on these identities to offer high-quality, equity-based teaching to all students. Reflecting on identity and re-envisioning learning and teaching through this lens especially benefits students who have been marginalized by race, class, ethnicity or gender. The authors encourage teachers to reframe instruction by using five equity-based mathematics teaching practices:

  • going deep with mathematics
  • leveraging multiple mathematical competencies
  • affirming mathematics learners’ identities
  • challenging spaces of marginality
  • drawing on multiple resources of knowledge

Wager, Anita and David Stinson. Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice: Conversations with Educators.

This collection of original articles is the start of a compelling conversation among some of the leading figures in critical and social justice mathematics, a number of teachers and educators who have been inspired by them and who have inspiring stories of their own to tell, and any reader interested in the intersection of education and social justice. An important read for every educator, this book shows how to teach mathematics so that all students are given the tools they need to confront issues of social justice today and in the future.

Small, Marian. Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction, 2nd Edition.

  • describes two easy-to-implement strategies for differentiating mathematics in any strand
  • offers almost 300 questions and tasks that teachers and coaches can adopt immediately, or use as models to create their own
  • includes Teaching Tips sidebars and organizing templates to help readers build new tasks and open questions
  • shows how to create a more inclusive classroom learning community that engages participants from all levels

Van de Walle, John A., Jennifer M. Bay-Williams and Lou Ann H. Lovin. Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics: Developmentally Appropriate Instruction for Grades 6-8.