theatre + dance = math

Theatre + Dance = Success with Math

theatre + dance = math–and-its-working/2016/02/22/61f8dc0c-d68b-11e5-b195-2e29a4e13425_story.html?utm_term=.b4c1596e256c

I ran upon this article in the Washington Post. It thrills me to see teachers using theatre and dance to teach core subjects! It seems theatre + dance = success in math!

Read on.

By Moriah Balingit February 22, 2016
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.

Teaching artist Melissa Richardson, right, from the Wolf Trap Institute, watches her kindergarten students at Westlawn Elementary School take large bear steps during a math lesson, on Feb. 18 in Falls Church, Va. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
Middle-school students in Arlington have built sculptures to learn about exponents, and students have used art to express their thoughts and opinions about police brutality and racial equality. Educators and artists who are proponents of the method say it reaches students who might not otherwise absorb traditional classroom methods.

The Wolf Trap Institute, based at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, brought Richardson to Westlawn Elementary through a program that pairs art teachers with early-childhood educators to formulate math lessons. The program also provides professional development to teachers.

And the program appears to have been effective: A study by the American Institutes for Research found that students in classes headed by Wolf Trap-trained teachers performed better on math assessments than did their peers being taught by teachers who were not in the program.

Researchers found that pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students in classes taught by Wolf Trap-trained teachers gained about 1.3 months of math learning in the first year over their peers. By the second year, they were 1.7 months ahead.

Researcher Mengli Song said the students in the program did not necessarily learn additional math content but they did demonstrate a better grasp of the material. And the effect was comparable to other early-childhood interventions.

“It’s not a huge effect, but it’s a non-trivial, notable effect,” Song said.

Researchers followed students in 18 schools. In 10 of the schools, Wolf Trap Institute art teachers helped classroom teachers generate math lessons. In the other eight, teachers taught students as they normally would. Researchers administered math assessments to about eight students per class.

Children and dance

Teachers who were trained by the master artists and participated in professional development with Wolf Trap continued to use what they learned in their classrooms, even when they were no longer working with teaching artists, the study found. It demonstrated that a year or two of training could have a lasting impact.

Hunt said it can be difficult to work with the arts-integration lessons — they take far more time to plan and it can be challenging to figure out how to use drama to teach a math concept. But she has worked well with Richardson and has seen the payoff.

Hunt’s students were not among those researchers studied. A 17-year veteran of teaching kindergarten, she said the arts integration lessons are one way to reach children who struggle with English. The vast majority of her 22 students are English-language learners.

Some mix up the word “big” and “small,” so teaching the concept can be a challenge. In the lesson with the animals, she attempted to demonstrate that the smallest animal took the greatest number of steps to the pond — in other words, that a big number can still signify something small.

Children dancing

“Visually they need to see that,” Hunt said. “That concept is very difficult. The numbers are big but the measurements are small . . . it makes so much more sense when they act it out.”

Richardson said some children can struggle with math because it’s abstract. Children can get emotionally invested in acting out a story, though, that involves counting. And they are exceptionally good with imagination, far better than her adult acting students, she said.

On that day, the children did not totally grasp the concept, but they practiced counting by fives and studied how some animals have larger strides then others. And judging by the giggles, smiles and their enthusiastic participation, they had fun, too.

“Which animal had the biggest jumps or steps?” Hunt asked, pointing to the chart that listed rhino, frog, ladybug and kangaroo.

“A panda!” one girl yelled enthusiastically.

Hunt said that’s the other key. Her students never get bored when they are involved in the arts-integration lessons, even if they do get “wiggly.”

Jennifer Cooper, director of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, said arts integration — particularly lessons where children get to move and play — is a good way to reach a lot of children who struggle with traditional book lessons.

“By embodying a concept . . . and putting it through your body in a multi-sensory way, you’re going to reach a lot of different kinds of learners,” Cooper said.

So there you have it–theatre + dance = success in math!  Pretty cool.

Moriah Balingit writes about education for the Post. Follow @ByMoriah

The Drama Exercise to Jazz Up Your Class and Impress Your Parents

Do you need an exercise for your students and parents to participate together? How about tableau in a unique way?

Your dramamomma has you covered!  Here’s a new lesson plan for your drama classroom using tableau as the springboard.

If you are like me, you are always looking for ways to encourage your parents to be involved whenever they visit class.  This exercise is a sure fire winner.  I have used it at the beginning of the school year and also when parents visit to see a class play.

It’s a sneaky to get your parents to perform with their child.  In many ways, it helps everyone.  The students get to “play” with their parent and have their full attention, the parents are given permission to “play” as well.  Together their have a shared experience, too.

Generally, parents really enjoy this little ice breaker.  It certainly engages everyone.

The exercise takes about fifteen minutes in length.  You could also lengthen the exercise by asking two student/parent groups to work together and perform a larger memory they might have–say, seeing a baseball games (two are the players and two are the baseball fans in the bleachers, etc.)

I can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!

Go to: Tableau Ad (2)

super hero postcard stories

What are Super Hero Postcard Stories? 

What are Super Hero Postcard Stories?

It’s fairly self explanatory.  Students create stories about a super hero, but there’s a catch. (sorry, no spoiler here–you’ll just have to check out the product.)

super hero postcard stories

Every year, I taught a storytelling unit–it lasts three weeks and culminated in a storytelling festival.

One of the least stressful performing experieinces is storytelling.  Why, we humans do it everyday.

Have you ever told your family about your day?  Did you use different voices to convey what occured that day between you and someone else?

Here is some of the scoop.

Super Hero Postcard stories needs very few materials–a box of postcards of all kinds (nature, cities, people, famous places, etc.) and maybe a box of sound effects if you have them.

The exercise takes around thirty minutes to complete.

Super Hero Postcard stories are an engaging activity.  The students work in cooperative groups crafting a story which originates through various images they “lift” from the postcards.  There is one catch–sorry, I still won’t tell you what it is, though.

The group is expected to write down their story and dramatize it in some fashion.  Sometimes they act it out, sometimes they don’t. They are encouraged to give their story a title.

Everyone in the group is required to participate whether as actors or sound effect engineers (called Foleys) if performing seems too scarey.

The product comes with:

  • the history of super heroes
  • teacher’s questions
  • procedure page
  • an example of a story written by a group of my students

Trust me, I have taught drama since before we had dirt.  A. long.time.

I know what works and what doesn’t.

Super Hero Postcard Stories works!

Contact me at or check out my website at

I’d love to hear from you.  Talk with you soon!










author and fan of Bumbling Bea

The Top 20 “Must Haves” for Your Drama Classroom


I’m feeling in the mood for giving.

Beginning Teaching

So, the top 20 things “must haves”  for your drama classroom–There are so many things to think about when you are a beginning teacher.  I remember my first year as an English teacher (which was a minor of mine in college.) Since I never student taught in English, I knew very little of what I needed for my classroom.  Teachers weren’t as team oriented as they are now and I was on my own to figure out everything.

Now new teachers have a mentor at their school who shows them the ropes of teaching in their school.  The first three years of a teacher’s career are the most pivotal.  If you “stick” in the job, you’ll probably continue teaching for many years.

But you see, I’m stubborn.

Even though I was completely on my own I wouldn’t give up.  Truthfully, it really did take until the third year for me to find my groove.  It was a tough experience for me, but I gained so much knowledge from those years.  I learned about teaching, but I also learned about myself.  (Oh, and my first husband walked out on me two days before my first day of school that first year.  Did I mention that?)

So, what does this all have to do with the “must haves “of a drama classroom?

Lots! I’m here to help you.  I’m going to make your life easier

Just Download my list of
“The Top 20 Must Haves for a Drama Classroom” and you’ll be set to go.


I’m always here for you.  You aren’t alone on your journey.

Contact me at or

I’m happy to help and advise you.


Ultimate Guide for Drama Teachers

The Ultimate Guide for Drama Teachers: Creative Movement? Are you kidding me?

Grace as Urula in Bye bye Birdie
Ursule in Bye Bye Birdie  Presser Performing Arts Center July, 2014


I have thousands of students to teach, inspire and motivate each year.  Well, it feels that way sometimes.  Since I have taught theater for over thirty years, there are many subjects within the subject of theater that I can teach.  This year’s challenge:  Creative Movement.

Now before you think you must have a lifetime of ballet lessons and toured with the Alvin Ailey Dancers, I want you to think again.  If you have taken several dance classes, many acting classes and yes, movement classes you are probably equipped to teach youngsters about creative movement. Remember, when you are a teacher, generally you know more than the students about the particular subject, especially if they are elementary grade level.

Why Teach a Creative Movement Class?

Last year, the idea for this class came to me when I observed my Intro. to M. Theater students struggling with dance steps. I thought, “Jeez, they can’t even keep straight their left foot from their right. Poor kids. Maybe I need to teach about movement first before we jump into dance steps. No jazz squares for them.”

So, when my principal asked me what other classes I would like to teach (because our students take classes once a week, in an enrichment program for home school students and we create new classes every few years) I threw out creative movement as a possible subject.  Trust me, I hadn’t really thought it through AT ALL!  I never expected my principal to jump on the idea, but she did and here I am to share about my experiences.


Last summer I began my research.  First, there are not many useful creative movement lesson plans on the internet.  Usually, I look at what someone else has used and go from there, tweaking it for my needs. But when I couldn’t find much to use as a stepping off point, I got smart and looked on Amazon and found several books that looked like they would be helpful.  Boy, was I lucky and right!

The two books I have used religiously this year are  Creative Dance for All Ages by Anne Green Gilbert and Lesson Plans for Creative Dance by Sally Carline. Laugh all you want, but I love the straight forward and no nonsense titles of these books which is perhaps the reason I noticed them first.  I used Anne Gilbert’s book for the first semester and Sally Carline’s for the second semester.

If you are looking into teaching creative movement with your students, I highly recommend these two gold mines.  I had taken some dance classes in college (my mother wouldn’t let me take them when I was a child because she thought they were silly), acting classes and a wonderful movement class while studying for my Masters.  NONE of these compared to these two books. No kidding here.  These are tremendous.

Creative Dance for All Ages is divided up by theory and method.  She explains the importance of creative dance, the elements of dance, the various expected outcomes, various materials you’ll need to teach the class effectively (a CD player, scarves, ribbon wands, a drum or wood block, etc.) I purchased Body Sox, too because I think they are terrific help especially for shy students (see blog #7 for moreinfo about them).  Gilbert shares about planning the length of the class depending on the age of the child or adult, for that matter. Within each chapter, she advises the reader on lots and lots of exercises to do with the students. Gosh, I could go on and on about this book.  You just really need to purchase one.  It’s ISBN number is:  0-889314-532-4.  I think it cost about $23.00 and is worth its weight in gold.

Lesson Plans for Creative Dance is equally great.  This book is divided up into grade levels and includes diagramsof dance steps, music suggestions to aid in the lesson plan, little stories to share with the students so that they can better visualize the movement requirements and a host of other cool items.  My students and I have enjoyed the enormous array of music suggestions.  Because of this book, I have a lot of music downloaded on my Ipad now and it’s comforting to know that it is right at my fingertips at any moment.  Many times, the students have asked the title of the music piece as they are creating. Most of my classes are mixed grade levels, so I have learned to vary the lessons week to week hoping to satisfy everyone’s intellect.

Next week, we’ll have an open house for the parents to see what all we have learned.  We’ll start out by demonstrating various elements of dance (pathways, self and general space, speed, weight, effort, etc), then we’ll share three dances based on threes stories with music and maybe even create a new piece spontaneously.


I have seen such growth in my Creative Movement students this year.  They began the class quite inhibited, awkward and quickly tiring from these exercises.  Now they embrace every lesson, naturally integrate the movement and include various elements from other lessons. Success! Whew….

What experience have you enjoyed with creative movement? Do you have anything to share?

Contact me at or

I’d love to hear from you!

If you’d like to hear about more of my experiences, check out this: