Art and Science; Connected Learning

Try something new.

In the past I have explored using abstract art as a way of expressing our understanding of scientific concepts.  Recently, I decided to take another dive into the world of interpretive dance.  I started my journey with a pal from #pypchat who is a performing arts teacher in Hong Kong.  She gave me some good pointers.  Still, I was nervous, I have no dance skills myself, and I needed more people to support me.  Sarah's advice was merely a kick in the right direction, which sent me down other roads and inspired me to keep going and seeking out more information.

This project was partly inspired by a wonderful TEDtalk and program entitled Dance your PhD.  The premise is simple; instead of doing a boring powerpoint (which the speaker describes as the single biggest drain on the Economy) do it with Dance.  The other half of the inspiration came from a colleague whom I worked with in Toronto while a teacher candidate.

A is a dancer.  She would talk about dance all the time, and how it can be used in the class.  I first saw her teach a math lesson with rotations, flips and symmetry using personal space, cartesian grids, and abstract movement.  It was astounding to see a group of grade 4 students dancing and moving and learning.  I found myself teaching black holes to a large group of grade 6 students, so I called her in.  She led them through a series of movements, put it to music, put it the science behind black holes in it, and then polished a wonderful little dance piece.  The awkwardness of grade 6 boys and girls disappeared when she was with them, and they danced together and problem solved and learned about space.  All in 50 minutes.

Fast forward to last month, and A is an ocean and most of a continent away.  I needed her, but the only way for her to help was over email.  She sent me a rough sketch of what I was supposed to do, and wished me luck.  Here is what she sent.  Feel free to use it, and if you try, let me know.  A is one of the true diamonds in a world of teachers who are trying to shine.
I'm happy to help with your idea though and I applaud you for venturing into the dance integration world!
Here's how to start no matter what topic you'll be working with:

1- You could play some classical music or space music (something without a distinctive beat because you want them working at their own rhythms). Have they begin walking around through the space. Ask them to remember not to talk or touch each other.
2- Ask them to avoid walking in a circle but to make an interesting pathway through the whole space as though leaving footprints in the sand/snow. Let them do this for a few minutes.
3-Continue instructing as they are walking. Say for example you are doing the layers of the earth's core, you could ask them to start to imagine they are at the very centre of the planet and begin to move with that quality. Solid core, stiff, solid movements, barely changing shape; Then liquid core moving with very slow but fluid movement.
4- Then they could make their bodies into the shape of stiff, flat plates that can only move laterally.
5- They could imagine feeling their bodies were in an enclosed space and under a great deal of pressure, moving against resistance with terrific force. Always remind them to explore with different body parts, at different levels in space.
6- Then you could ask them to continue moving but to hold still whenever they come in contact with another dancer, making connected shapes of two or three people.
This format of improvisation would work for whatever you are trying to explore. I did it the other day with the 3 Little Pigs: we danced like straw, like sticks and then like bricks.
7- Once you have had some fun improvising, you could build the dance with more structure, assigning a group of kids to each layer and giving them a few minutes to compose a dance that shows the quality of that layer.
8- They would then show their dance to the other groups who might make suggestions.
9- They edit and revise their dances.
10 - You could string them together to create a 5 minute piece of choreography, perfect for concert night!
Good luck and message me again with any questions. I'm happy to help.
Take care,

I took this and applied it to natural disasters.  The first dance we tried was about the movement of tectonic plates.  I had the students write a poem using the most vivid words from our studies.  Then, we tried to turn that poem into a dance.  The first draft was rough, and after some helpful feedback from a drama-expert friend in Calgary, we revised our dance for the next round. Earthquakes and Volcanos were much better done, but as we watched the video on the class TV, we realized we still needed to work on our fluidity.  Next week, we get one more shot; Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and Sandstorms.  As a group of people who have no prior experience with Dance, we are optimistic that we will see a massive improvement from the first round.

The kids have loved it.  They have taken on the challenge of trying something new with an impressive attitude.  They are aware that I am new to this, and understand that we all need to work together to make this successful.  They are also very appreciate of the help we have received from strangers around the world.  Whatever happens, we learned something new.  From the students perspective, they took a risk and tried a new way of expressing themselves.  They connected with experts and adults around the world (even if it was indirectly through me, I always told them where the ideas were coming from) and not least importantly, they had a great time.  Hong Kong to Toronto to Calgary, and us in Japan benefiting from the generosity of others.

From my teacher perspective, the process of writing the poem, planning the dance, and performing it, has helped them to understand the scientific concept.  Drawing diagrams is great.  Building models is wonderful.  Yet, we are trying to learn about something that is based on movement.  Plates collide.  Earthquakes send out waves.  Hurricanes build and then dissipate.  These concepts are all related to, and understood more deeply, through movement.

Personally as a teacher, it has added another tool to my box and shown me once again how powerful the arts are in a classroom.  I honestly believe that the dichotomy we create between Art and Science is entirely human-made.  I am now on the lookout for other ways to break that distinction down.  Learning to use dance in the classroom has given me a new lens on my own understanding of how children make sense of scientific concepts.

Try something new.