2nd graders at Mound STEM School are thinking about how to tell stories. They know you can read stories in a book, but we wanted to find other ways to tell a story – especially about weather events like blizzards and tornadoes. Starting with snow and blizzards, we listened to music from “The Nutcracker,” specifically the dance of the snowflakes and the dance of the sugar plum fairy. Students then decided at what parts in the music they thought the weather was changing from gentle snow, to wind, to a blizzard, etc. We used our bodies to create our own snowflake dance, from when moisture exists as water, then turns to ice crystals, then the ice crystals bind together to make snowflakes, until finally when the wind blows so hard that all the snowflakes fall as a blizzard. The range and variety of instruments in our music helped us differentiate our physical positions between water, to ice, to snow, to wind. We started with just our fingertips as water droplets, then grew to hands and arms for ice crystals, then joined out bodies together to make large snowflakes, and then moved in our imaginary wind to be flakes blowing in the wind. When we put together our movements with the music, we were able to tell the story of snowflakes forming and falling all around us.
After each session students reflect in their journals on a question or prompt related to our activities that day. The question I asked them for these journal entries was “How Do You Tell a Story?” In their journals I hope for them to communicate how we are understanding and exploring the science content through our drama and physical theater.
Every week in 3rd grade at Mound STEM School we start with a dance warm up! We’ve tackled Indian/Bollywood dance styles with “Jai Ho” or yoga-inspired contemporary movement with traditional Hawaiian tribal music, Cha-Cha Slide (one of the students’ favorites), and my personal favorites “Bounce” by Kelis and “Pumping Blood” by NONONO. Each different dance warm up targets specific muscle and body-part groups that cultivate a new sense of physical awareness and how their body exists and manipulates in their personal space. We work on creating and controlling our own personal bubble, within which we can dance as big or as little as we want. I encourage them each week to bring their own personality and flair to the dance moves (“How low can you go?!” “Show me some attitude!”) so we can make connections between how to create and express physically and emotionally. The dance warm up is the stepping stone into our physical theater/devising work around the butterfly life cycle and animal adaptations. With their developing ability to work inside a safe and contained space bubble, students create statues of the insects and animals they are studying and work together to create interesting movement cycles as multi-functional parts of an animal machine. Introducing these devising concepts with something as seemingly simple and approachable as a good pop dance warm up has enabled some students to find agency in their creative muscles and step forward as leaders in their group work.
Below: The bounce breakdown in “Bounce.”
We are in Week 5 of theater residencies at Mound STEM School. Second graders are using movement to explore different weather patterns and phenomenons. We have made human snow globes and filled them with cold wind, ice crystals, and blizzards; we created thunder and lightning statues and added percussion accompaniment; now we are thinking about the process of tornado formation as a machine of different speeds and temperatures of wind. Second graders journal after every session, and they are finding meaningful connections between their science content and the creativity of dramatic movement.
In third grade we are working on the life cycle of caterpillars and butterflies. Students have investigated the process of metamorphosis as a series of physical movements. Our next step is devising skits around butterfly adaptations and survival tactics, using a storyboard template to create visual scenes with written story lines. The third graders love to dance, so we start each session with a dance warm up that gets them thinking about different ranges of movement and how they can create physical theater — using their body to tell a story.