If you have ever been a teacher or a parent or a student (i.e. pretty much everyone), you know that there are different types of learners. You also know that the arts are often an afterthought when it comes to planning school curriculums and are frequently early victims of education budget cuts. Teachers at an elementary school in Virginia, however, are convinced of the value of integrating theater and movement into core subjects such as math… and they are reporting that the creative discipline is actually helping their students gain a better grasp of math concepts. In conjunction with the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, which is part of the long-running arts foundation and national park for the performing arts, art teachers trained and collaborated with general classroom teachers to create lessons using performative and creative methods to demonstrate math concepts.
For example, one day the children worked on counting the steps of varied animals to show units of measurement and better explain size. Storytelling is also a frequently used technique, especially since these young learners are especially imaginative. Along with bringing movement and fun to the classroom, researchers who have followed the program found that it has a real effect on the children’s ability to understand the math concepts: students who were in classrooms that were taught by teachers trained through the Wolf Trap Institute program gained about 1.3 months of math learning in the first year of the program as compared to peers whose teachers were not trained to use this approach.
And it’s not just the students who benefited from this new type of learning; the teachers also added innovative methods to their teaching repertoire through the Wolf Trap Institute program training. The study found that these teachers continued using the methods they learned even when the collaboration and training was done, despite the fact that these arts-integrated lessons generally take longer to plan and require more effort. One teacher also found that the arts lessons were helpful with her classroom of English-language learners; the performance aspect helped the students, who were mixing up words, understand the words by actually acting them out in a way that engaged multiple senses. An arts-intregated program that gets kids thinking creatively and actually moving their bodies out of desks during the school day? We’d like to sign up the nearly 99,000 public schools in the U.S., please!