Using the Arts In Classrooms

There are many ways that the arts can be used in academic instruction, to make lessons come alive with meaning—and lots of fun.  

Rhythms, and rhymes have been used for generations to help with memorization.

This is a true story:  Years ago, I worked as a teacher's aide at an elementary school.  My job was to circulate throughout the classrooms and help each teacher in any way he/she 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 I bet, like myself, those students still recall the order of circulation of blood.

I didn't dream at the time, that years later, I would use this approach to teaching dance.  But chanting the action of dance steps, beat by beat, is a great tool for learning dance moves.  I use it routinely in all of my classes.  


If you go to the "instructional chants" page of this site, you will see that I developed many chants to help students learn dance steps.  The chant becomes like a song and students follow the action as described by those words.  Think of it as a recipe for each move, and you just follow the directions.

Indeed, we all know that there are poems that teach all kinds of things….

 "Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November.” 

"I before E, except after C or when sounded as A, as in neighbor or weigh."

Even the alphabet song (first copyrighted in 1835 by Charles Bradlee) for young children is a example!

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.htmyou 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." 

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.

I have taught Salsa Rueda (“Rueda de Casino”) and since I was formerly a Math teacher, I have constructed lessons in mathematics that can be generated by learning this dance!  First, the geometry of the position of the dancers must be understood.  If a line were drawn between the leader and follower, it can be drawn as a tangent to the circle. If extended, these lines would create an equilateral polygon.  Students can then do some lessons in circle geometry.  They can compare the arc the leader moves from one partner to the next in circles with 3 couples versus 7 or 8 couples. 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? 

Or they can compute the length of music needed to fit a dance performance of a given number of beats and a given tempo (beats per minute).  Then they can have fun dancing to test if their conclusion was correct.

For more details/lesson plans on Math programs that utilize music and dance, visit: BetterTeachingNow.com.  There are also some videos on basic (4th to 8th grade) math at that site.  Some of those links are below...

Fractions:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwCV-tP7zzg     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsNbXmnkuHs  

Positive & Negative Numbers:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXnk9FgaS2w   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aG53Dlc4U9k

Percentages:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6unY1u6n20M    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU1vtCI7TYQ   

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

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).