Above: Barb and Cedric perform for 4th to 8th graders, as part of a Hispanic Heritage Month program at Whittier Education Campus.  Barb applied some Mathematics concepts to Salsa music and dancing.  Oct. 2013.

Above: Math Education students at American University listen intently to how they can illustrate principles in Mathematics, using the fundamentals of Salsa and Merengue!  Spring, 2013.

Above: Barb explains the history and rhythms of the Latin dances at a pre-performance discussion program at Wolf Trap.  Summer, 2012.  

Using The Arts In Academic Instruction:
 Rhymes, Rhythm, Poetry, Songs, Music & Dance
In Our Academic Classrooms

There are many ways that the arts can be used in academic instruction, to make lessons come alive with meaning, and help students enjoy them.  And many different arts can be employed.

Rhythms, rhymes and poetry, for example, have been used for generations in certain common lessons.

I discovered years ago myself how useful they can be, years ago when I was a student at the University of Chicago.  While an undergraduate, I worked as a teacher's aide at an elementary school to earn money.  My job was to circulate among the classrooms and help each teacher in any way they wished.  One teacher asked me teach a biology lesson to her class when they were studying the circulation of blood in the human body.  They were learning that blood goes from the right side of the heart to the lungs for oxygen, and then to the left side of the heart where the oxygen rich blood is pumped to the rest of the body. 

I would certainly not recall this order of blood flow now, decades later, had we not turned the sequence into a chant.  The kids had fun saying over and over, with great fervor:  Right heart, lungs, left heart, body………  After the 20th repetition, it was hard to calm them down, but they certainly remembered those facts, and had fun learning them.

I didn't dream at the time, that years later, I would use this approach to teaching dance.  But for couples to dance in synchrony, as we do in Cuban style Salsa, they must execute moves in exactly the same rhythm. So chanting the action of each step, which directs the dancers on what to do, beat by beat, is a great tool for learning dance moves.  I use it routinely in all of my classes.  It's much like learning a song that tells the singer what to do.  They match their actions with the beat of the song and can remember the dance move much better that way.

If you go to this link on the DanceInTime website, http://danceintime.com/chants.htm you will see that there are a huge number of moves for which I developed chants to help students learn dance steps .  Once someone has taken my classes a while, they often have some of the common chants memorized and they sing them along with me!

There are poems that teach all kinds of things---such as this for which month have 30 days:  "Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November."  And here is a common poem for learning a spelling rule: "I before E, except after C or when sounded as A, as in neighbor or weigh."

Songs, which are similar to poems and chants, are also commonly used for teaching.  We all know that most young children learn the English alphabet from the "Alphabet Song."  This was first copyrighted in 1835 by music publisher Charles Bradlee.  It is sung to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

Here are some other instructional songs:

a.  To teach children odd and even numbers, a song to the tune of "Bingo" can be sung as follows:

There was a farmer who had a pig
And EVEN was his name-o.
And EVEN was his name-o!
There was a farmer who had cow
And ODD was his name-o.
And ODD was her name-o!

b.  This song, to the tune of "Clementine," teaches the days of the week:

Sunday, Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday, Saturday,

There are seven days,
There are seven days,
There are seven days in a week

If you go to this link, http://www.songsforteaching.com/earthtone/2multiplicationrap.htm you can find a rap for learning the multiplication tables. And there are many other creative ways to learn things that make learning fun… Algebra students commonly learn the order of operations (what process to do first, second, etc) from this mnemonic device: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.  The first letter of these words stand for: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction. 

A similar mnemonic is to use the first letter of each word in a phrase to remind students of the countries in Central America, starting below Mexico and going from north to south. The countries are: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama.  So check out these sentences:  "Beatrice, Give Every Hungry Nerd Cocoa Puffs." And "Big Gorillas Eat Hotdogs Not Cold Pizza."  Think of having students come up with their own phrases to help them remember these or other facts….That is a really fun lesson!

And here is a clever approach to learning Pi, a mathematical constant used in many mathematical calculations.  The value of Pi is approximately 3.14159265358979…(on and on)… So if someone remembers this sentence, they can count the number of letters in each word and that is the number of each digit!  "How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics."

Here is an unusual way to use dance for instruction...  A short article in "The Week," a popular news magazine from March 7, 2008 said this:
"Twenty policement in Timisoara, Romania, are taking dance classes from two former members of their city's ballet company to help them direct traffic more effectively. The idea is to make the cops' signals clearer and to help them catch the attention of drivers.... Instead of having robots guiding the traffic, we can have very graceful agents doing the same thing."  That is an interesting way to integrate the arts into learning!

You can see that finding ways to commit things to memory can be a very creative and fun exercise.  Of course, memorization must be accompanied by understanding what the rule means and how it is to be used.  Memorizing is useless without understanding, and should never take the place of it.  But as an additional aid, it is helpful in retrieving information quickly.  And lessons that include creative or funny elements, make a school day lively and memorable.

As a teacher of Salsa Rueda, there are many lessons that can be generated for math and physics classes from what is done in my dance class.  First, the geometry of the position of the dancers must be understood.  If a line were drawn between the leader and follower in each couple should be a tangent to the circle if they are positioned correctly. If extended, these lines would create an equilateral polygon.  Students can watch some dance shows and determine if the dancers got their geometry right!  Or they can compute the length of music needed to fit a dance performance of a given number of beats and a given tempo.  Then they can have fun testing if their conclusion works.

They can compare the arc the leader moves from one partner to the next in a small or larger circle, and compare the linear and the angular momentums.  They can see what happens to the angle that must be covered if there are 3 couples in the circle versus 7 or 8.  And then determine if that angle/arc will be different if the circle is big or small, given that there are the same number of couples in the circle.

Sometimes the dance is done with an inverted circle, where dancers face the outside of the circle instead of the conventional approach of facing in.  What does that do the the arc the leader must cover going from one partner to the next? 

And what happens if one partner is taking large steps on the basic and the other is taking small steps?  How will that asymmetry look?  What happens if one leader moves faster than the others when they do a partner exchange?  What happens if one leader moves slower than others?

There are many lessons in math and physics that can be generated from a dance class, both having to do with the dance movements, and also the musical rhythms. Using the arts of music and dance in academic classrooms is a great way to make principles of math and science come alive and make learning interesting and fun. 

In addition, I have created instructional videos for youtube that cover some concepts in mathematics. These are listed below.  Feel free to use them in working with any students who would find them useful, or teachers can watch them as a guide on ways that these topics can be explained...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwCV-tP7zzg    Adding and Subtracting Fractions

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsNbXmnkuHs  Multiplying and Dividing Fractions

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXnk9FgaS2w Adding/Subtracting Positive and Negative Numbers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aG53Dlc4U9k  Multiplying/Dividing Positive and Negative Numbers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6unY1u6n20M  Percentages: Part 1 (Introduction)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU1vtCI7TYQ   Pecentages: Part 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vL7UsLSOjQ  Introduction to Decimals

If any reader is interested in more information on programs for improving academic instruction with or without the arts, feel free to contact Barb (BarbBtalks at aol dot com or 301-9806043).  Or you can visit: BetterTeachingNow.com.


Above: : Barb teaching students at Arundel High School----grades 9 to 12.  The faces in the photo are intentionally blurred (for privacy).  October 2013.

Above: : Barb lecturing a class at American University in DC on how to use music and dance to illustrate principles in Mathematics!  Spring, 2013

Above: Barb teaches Latin dances at a Pre-Performance Discussion at Wolf Trap Park. Summer 2012.