News Article

Turn the "I Can't" Around

Shine teaches students math through dance

February 22, 2016

Math and dance may seem like two completely unrelated things, but when you put the two together it forms a fun and innovative way to improve math skills and confidence of local middle school girls.

The SHINE for Girls program in Boston is run by MIT student mentors and includes learning through small group study sessions of tutoring. What sets the group apart is their method of teaching: SHINE harnesses kinesthetic learning principles by combining math and dance. Its mission is built on five pillars of success: Supporting, Harnessing, Inspiring, Nurturing, and Empowering.

MIT alum Kirin Sinha ’14 found inspiration to create the SHINE for Girls program because she became deeply interested in the gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields. From her experiences as a math tutor she realized that girls tended to have an “I can’t understand” attitude when presented with an unfamiliar task, whereas boys tended to say “I don’t understand.” The SHINE program is designed to turn the “I can’t” attitude around by creating a space to allow girls to realize they can and want to succeed.  SHINE’s long-term goal is to defy stereotypes and to create a growing path of next-generation women leaders in STEM.

SHINE addresses the stigma that being good at math is not considered cool. MIT student Emily Benz ’17 relates to this experience when hearing her name announced for a math award over the public address system at her middle school.

 “I wanted to cry in shame. I was so afraid,” said Benz.

Benz knows she was fortunate enough to gain confidence in her abilities, eventually going on to join her high school math team and end up at MIT studying Course 6, but feels that her good fortune to be an anomaly among girls.

At MIT, Benz picked up dancing as an extracurricular activity despite having little experience.

“I gained a lot of self-confidence going on stage and performing in front of my peers and putting it all out there,” said Benz.

Now she utilizes her personal experiences with math and dance to positively impact other girls as a SHINE mentor. Interestingly, Benz described how she still remembers dance moves from her performances distinctly, but not specifics from 18.01 even though she was engaged in that class. This sentiment gets at the heart of the methods of SHINE for Girls: use dance to make math stick.

Kinesthetic learning activities tackle topics such as fractions, geometry, probability, graphing, and pre-algebra. For example, the exercise “choreographing algebra” helps conceptualize the idea of a variable. 

SHINE purposefully challenges its participants by asking difficult questions to teach that it is okay to try and fail. When a student leaves the program, Shine’s goal is to instill the confidence to attempt a new task combined with the grit to work through a challenge regardless of the outcome.

“It has been rewarding as a mentor to be connected to a girl and watch her grow over time,” described Benz.

Specifically she spoke about the transformation of one girl whose shyness was complicated by a language barrier. At the end of the course this same girl was eagerly raising her hand and asking to approach the board to demonstrate how to do a problem to her peers. She improved her math skills while increasing her confidence to turn the “I can’t” around.

Since the program’s start in 2013, it has grown to additional locations in California, Florida, Virginia, and Washington D.C.

To get involved, start a new branch, or learn more visit Shine’s website.

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