Author Archives: Amy Notley

Moving Connections: My Work at Michael R. White

Positive classroom experiences are the foundation for creating a passion and love of learning for both students and teachers.

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As a dance educator I often have some explaining to do when I begin a residency.  Since most teachers have only had experiences with visual artists, they often wonder how PAA could use dance as a means to teach science. Teachers are also often curious about motivating students to dance and how they make up their own movements. The reactions are mixed  at times ranging from “Ok, sounds fine”, to “Wow, this is exciting.” Working at Michael R. White elementary school for the first time and also working with a new and condensed schedule, my task was to integrate the standards with dance and movement in five sessions.

Working with young children can sometimes be like herding cats, but it gets easier once you get to know your dancers. I use modern technique and creative movement games as my main methods of instruction and attempt to relate them as closely to their studies as possible. One group  I worked with focused on different habitats and their respective inhabitants.

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In one instance we used swinging motion to connect with the movement of an elephant’s trunk. Swinging their arms freely and lively as if they were in the savannah themselves, the kids seemed to grasp the movement concept right away. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they’re getting the idea until much later in the residency, but this time it became readily apparent that they were obviously expert elephants and I had delightfully underestimated their pachyderm prowess. I just loved their eventual observations too. When I asked the class what their favorite movement was one boy eagerly remembered the swinging motion and shared that  doing it slowly made him feel like an elephant’s trunk in the savannah.  This particular boy doesn’t answer many questions in the classroom and is often out of his seat. I could tell by the way he explained his answer, the enthusiasm that he conveyed though his gestures and facial expression, that he really got the movement concept we were striving for. I think dancing and movement helped calm his mind and made him better able to connect with the material. That’s the kind of success I look for, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

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Another group of students I worked with was the kindergarteners, and we danced about the features of the seasons. Talk about adorable! When we began they couldn’t stand in straight lines much less relate what science standard we were focusing on. By the fifth class though the vast majority knew all of the seasons and had learned new routines and movements. More importantly, the classroom teacher felt that dancing was a memorable experience for them, and it provided success for certain students who often struggled.

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My favorite moments during residencies are the interactions that spark both personal and intellectual connection. The students love when the teachers join us in the circle to warm up or play our improvisation games. Watching students grasp concepts and demonstrate understanding through abstract interaction is invigorating. Students choreographing and being so excited that they want to teach their peers brings a true sense of joy to my heart.

 

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We never stop.

 

Orchard STEM School’s third graders in performance in fall 2013. The performance was a dance illustrating the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

Dancing in the schools is as much fun as it sounds. It can be challenging at times to engage the young boys. They want to feel macho, and even in elementary school there are stigmas attached to certain activities. In the beginning everyone is a bit nervous, not sure of themselves. Through creative movement games they loosen up and as our time together continues they become leaders directing me and each other. As we complete our classes I’m always surprised at how much the boys can remember and show physically. The question always remains, are they remembering science standards? I am returning to Orchard elementary this year to work with the third grade. As I was walking through the hall for my meeting, three boys ran toward me. “Miss Amy! Are we dancing with you? I remember our dance. We changed from a caterpillar to a butterfly!” I couldn’t stop smiling. The movement had helped them to remember their science. “Do we start today?” they asked. “We never stop,” I thought.

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Too much force?

Three of my four classes this semester are first graders learning about force and motion.  At first I thought this was wonderful because I could combine my lesson plans and I would be working with the same ideas and there would be great continuity. Thinking again, I was worried and started to see a bit of stagnation in the lessons.  I needed to stay fresh in my approach in teaching these three classes.  Then something happened, a child in one of my classes said as we were walking to the gym for dance class, “this takes just a little energy.”  Her class is learning about energy and how it affects force and motion.  I realized that I had to relate the topic to myself and each class as an individual entity.  It was perfectly okay to do a little more with one group and a bit less with another.  It’s okay to use more force some times. (The little girl is in a class that gets a little more force and their dance is looking really good.)

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