Teachers are using theater and dance to teach math — and it’s working

The children puffed out their chests and mimicked drama teacher Melissa Richardson, rehearsing their big, booming “rhino voices.”

“Giant steps, giant steps, big and bold!” the kindergartners yelled in unison in a classroom at Westlawn Elementary in Fairfax County.

In groups, the children were then cast as animals and bugs: Big, stomping rhinos; delicate lady bugs skittering across the tile; leaping kangaroos and tiny frogs. All made their way to the classroom’s imaginary “water hole,” formed with blue tape.

This giggly play session actually was a serious math lesson about big and small and non-standard measurements. Dreamed up by Richardson and kindergarten teacher Carol Hunt, it aims to get the children to think of animal steps as units of measurement, using them to mark how many it takes each animal to get from a starting line to the target.

Teachers call such melding of art and traditional subjects “art integration,” and it’s a new and increasingly popular way of bringing the arts into the classroom. Instead of art as a stand-alone subject, teachers are using dance, drama and the visual arts to teach a variety of academic subjects in a more engaging way.

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shan palmer