I was so happy to see Dan Thoene as the Judo Math Dude featured in this week’s San Diego Reader cover story. My daughter, in 6th grade, is learning math at her own pace thanks to Judo Math. She’s currently a yellow belt, but instead of actual belts – she has a rubber bracelet. When asked what she thought of Judo Math, she shared, “It is a fun way to learn math and build teamwork skills because we learn in groups. It also makes me feel accomplished when I pass a level in Judo Math.”

Below are key points about what is Judo Math (from their website) and what makes it noteworthy as an edtransformer:

  • Judo Math incorporates Judo–a form a martial arts that focuses on cooperation and working for mutual welfare. Because Judo preaches working for mutual welfare, students work with other members of their belt class to help each other advance through their belts.
  • Everyone starts each discipline as a white belt. They progress through each level to earn the next belt: white to yellow, then orange, blue, and finally black.  Every student becomes a Black Belt in each discipline, signifying mastery of that area.It is the goal of the entire class to help everyone progress to a black belt.
  • Then once a student becomes a black belt, they are partnered up with another student to become their personal tutor, helping them progress through the belts. For those students with a faster pace, there is a sensei belt that can be achieved by moving past the required curriculum. They work towards becoming a Sensei, receiving a green belt. The students that reach this status become extra teachers in the classroom, running lessons on topics and helping out the most people that they can.
  • Moving from one level to the next is celebrated as an achievement with the presentation of belts, where each student who advanced is called up in front of the class to receive their new belt while others recognize the achievement with applause.
  • When the entire class finally reaches the black belt level in any discipline, there is a huge community celebration of their accomplishments, and the process starts over with the next discipline.
  • Judo Math motivates all students to take responsibility. There are no ability groups, just pacing groups. By the end of each discipline, everyone is a black belt rank, reinforcing the unity of the class. There is a sense of pride when moving from one belt to another.
  • The students’ confidence level increases throughout the year due to the marking of their achievements. Because the ultimate goal of Judo is to develop oneself to the fullest extent possible, the hope is that all students will develop this way of thinking throughout the school year, and apply it not only to math but other areas of life.

I like the tagline for Judo Math, “It’s not what you teach, it’s how you teach it.” Judo Math is not about bracelets or packets of math, it is about relationships or relationship-based learning and building a culture where learning is FUN. Judo Math allows students to learn math at their own pace. From my daughter’s experience in Judo Math, her teachers create a positive classroom environment where students build relationships with one another and with their teachers. Before going to middle school, my daughter did not feel she was good in math. Now after being in Judo Math for a semester, she likes math and sees she can master it.

I personally would love to see more students learning Judo Math instead of from traditional textbooks. How can we share Judo Math and get it into more classrooms? I welcome your thoughts and ideas. Thanks for reading!

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