Moving Connections: My Work at Michael R. White

Positive classroom experiences are the foundation for creating a passion and love for 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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