It’s widely accepted that dance has many benefits beyond physical fitness and artistic expression. Improved cognitive function and memory, problem-solving skills and analytical thinking are some of the less tangible profits of learning to dance, but can they be harnessed to assist children in learning academic subjects, such as mathematics?
Creative Moves WA believe they can. In partnership with Ausdance WA, they are working to create teacher resource material for generalist primary school teachers, in order to assist them in delivering the dance subject area that is part of the National Curriculum – the Arts.
“We decided to create lesson plans that purposefully connect the Maths syllabus with the Dance syllabus, delivering both subject areas with equal integrity,” says Rachael Bott, one half of Creative Moves WA.
Together with fellow WAAPA graduate and Buzz Dance Theatre alum Lanie Mason, Bott created Creative Moves WA two years ago. The two friends recognised the need for good quality dance programs in schools, in line with the “National Curriculum – the Arts”, and decided they were the ideal pair to rise to the challenge.
“We deliver workshops in a really wide variety of ways, but most often we start with some kind of guided warm-up where students are shown specific skills and learn about technique, alignment and safe dance practises,” explains Bott. “We then often guide the students through a range of creative tasks; they may be improvisations, dance games or choreographic tasks. Sometimes our workshops culminate in a sharing session, where students show each other what it is they have been exploring or creating.”
Creative Moves’ latest development, the Maths Through Movement workshops, follow this structure, with the warm-up and tasks based on a specific maths concept from the syllabus.
Bott acknowledges the different ways in which people learn – visually, aurally and kinaesthetically, as well as the fact that many students are immensely challenged by sitting still and concentrating for long periods.
“Giving students the opportunity to get up and learn a Maths concept by moving and embodying, it can only be beneficial for everyone,” she explains. “It gives children who have less and less opportunity to be physically active some extra exercise, it gives children who learn kinaesthetically the opportunity to experience the concept rather than just be told what it is on paper, and it gives teachers an opportunity to engage students who have trouble sitting still long enough to complete a worksheet.”
The Maths Through Movement lesson plans are deliverable by generalist teachers with no dance experience. Teachers will be able to access a variety of lesson plans, video tutorials, assessment guidelines, professional learning workshops and more in-depth workshops for students led by Creative Moves WA.
“Alongside this partnership with Ausdance WA, we have also developed a more in-depth program of Maths Through Movement workshops that we can deliver to students ourselves,” says Bott.
Despite the fact that the popularity of dance is showing no signs of waning, Bott and Mason have found themselves challenged by teachers and parents who don’t understand the benefits of the art form.
“Research has proven that young people who participate in high-quality artistic programs perform better across all the other learning areas,” Bott points out. “They are more confident, more engaged and better equipped for academic achievement.”
Many of their challengers, she says, don’t see the value of “letting kids explore and be creative, and expect that a dance class will just be the students learning a pre-choreographed routine.”
By contrast to this preconception, Creative Moves doesn’t teach the students “steps” or “routines”, but rather work with the students to help them create their own movement.
“The students are the artists, and we just give them the ideas to stimulate their creativity and the tools with which to construct their art,” explains Bott. “Our focus is very much on the process of making the dance, rather than focusing solely on the end product. We want students to make creative decisions and not just replicate something somebody else has created.
But the challenges of their tasks are dwarfed by the rewards, seeing the positive outcomes in students who take part in the workshops. “Young people just shine when they are given the opportunity to express themselves,” Bott says, “even if they have never danced before in their lives.”
The Maths Through Movement programs will launch at the beginning of Term 2, 2016 and will be available to purchase online via Ausdance WA.
By Rain Francis of Dance Informa.