Teaching Virginia’s Standards of Learning through dance is not only possible, but there is recorded data from right here in Hampton Roads showing that connecting the arts to core curriculum can make a real impact on test scores.
Young Audiences – Arts for Learning – Virginia and Todd Rosenlieb Dance recently taught fifth and sixth grade girls and boys of Portsmouth Public Schools the math SOLs through tap and hip-hop dance. The results?
Based on a review of our pre-assessment and post-assessments of students from Simonsdale Elementary School who participated in the 8-week residency, 13% of students felt more positive about dance; 6% of students felt more positive about exercise; 45% of students felt more positive about math; with, most importantly, an average increase of 40% in post-assessment scores. Of those students that felt more positive about math, 10% increased their opinion by 75%. And we aren’t done yet. Churchland Primary and Intermediate School will begin the residency in January 2015.
image | Stellar Exposures
As an arts-inclined student, I craved instruction that kept me moving and kept me curious. Here I was, sitting still at a desk while trying to grasp three dimensional concepts such as planes and rotation; it just wasn’t clicking. I needed open space. I needed energy. I needed creativity and innovation to help spark long-lasting connections. I needed dance, and not just as an “after-school delight” but as an avenue through which I could arrive at new thoughts and draw conclusions. I’m not saying dance needed to be the only option, but I needed options besides the “one way street” option given to me in the classroom.
I was one of the fortunate ones. I was accepted into Governor’s School for the Arts, a pre-professional training school that uses arts to build solid foundations for growth and learning. Upon entering this school, my grades were stronger, my confidence soared, and my ability to think above and beyond expanded. I recognized very early on the power of the arts to change learning first and, inevitably, lives.
When I was first approached about Dance for Life with Young Audiences – Arts for Learning – Virginia (YAV)–a statewide arts-in-education nonprofit organization which works with educational systems, the arts community, and private and public sectors to provide arts-in-education experiences to children in and through the arts– I knew we had a special opportunity here. A window to break through the rigid, black and white SOL requirements, with the vibrancy of the arts focused on math. Through YAV’s leadership and vision with teaching artists from Todd Rosenlieb Dance, there were meetings with Portsmouth Public School Department heads, including math and physical education specialists. Soon, YAV Program staff and artists began to fill notebooks full of ideas, concepts and scribbles that eventually turned into solid lesson plans with bold goals. When students encounter learning road blocks, they often need to experience the information in a way that meets their learning style: we were ready to meet them where they needed to learn.
Image | Anthony Donnay-Wood
As the lead teacher of this project, I watched the students grow as individuals. I watched their thinking become more detailed and intricate. I listened as they started to connect patterns with rhythm, fractions with movement, adding and subtracting with multiplying and dividing. I witnessed them turn math problems into dance sequences while graphing their movement on an X and Y axis. I heard them pull math examples into dance references and vice versa. We were creating memories that transformed into useful, re-callable information.
By the end of the session performance, I couldn’t have been more proud of our students and the work they had accomplished. Students who had previously feared math could now think of it in a new light. Students who were once scared of dancing could now stand up in front of 100+ people, smile, and be confident about who they are and what they know. Students who struggled to get along with others could now work successfully in groups to problem solve and produce quality work.
As I watched our work unfold, I thought to myself, “This is where education needs to be headed. Trying new things, throwing out the old things that don’t work, trying again and again.” It’s time for teachers and administrations to be fearless when it comes to learning. It’s time to break new ground and see what happens. I am so happy in what I saw happen: we learned math, we made friends, we learned how to problem solve, be innovative, and challenge each other. I’m so happy to know that we have 40+ dancing, math innovators out in the world now ready to take on new challenges with a smile.