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School of Education

ArtsBridge scholars develop curriculum integrating math and music.

5:58 p.m., Aug. 22, 2013–“I’m Bored. Me too 3,4,5.” When Jennifer Ryan sat in class during her freshman year, she found this statement carved into a desk. It made her think how important it is to keep students engaged and interested when they’re learning.

As an elementary teacher education major at the University of Delaware with a concentration in middle school math, this was a major concern for Ryan. How could she develop lesson plans that motivated her students?

During a presentation on the ArtsBridge program, she found her inspiration.  ArtsBridge is a national research network that enables University students to write and teach arts-integrated curricula in local schools. It promotes the use of dramatic and visual arts and digital technology in urban and low-income areas to improve academic learning and to reinforce values of peace, community and diversity.

“I was a member of my high school dance program, and I knew how important dance had been to me. While I am majoring in education, I am pursuing a dance minor.  Through the ArtsBridge program at UD, I found a way to combine my two passions — integrating dance and other arts into curriculum for elementary school children.

She created a curriculum “Math that Moves You,” which teaches math to second grade students through dance. Over a five-week period, her students at Kuumba Academy in Wilmington and Downes Elementary School in Newark learned to count moves, create abstract shapes and measure lengths. Although it was a short timeframe, results were encouraging.

“We had a control group and a test group. After the study, math scores for both groups increased, with no significant difference between the two. But the students enjoyed the dance lessons, which increased their enthusiasm for school,” Ryan said, projecting that it may lead to improved learning over time.

In 2012, she gave a presentation to other prospective ArtsBridge students, including Amanda Boccardi, who is also an ETE major with an interest in music. She decided to explore incorporating music into her curriculum for second graders as a summer ArtsBridge project, “Math Is Music to Our Ears.”

Lesson plans were guided by the Delaware state standards in math, music and dance. Specifically, her unit addresses concepts such as money and counting fractions, incorporating, rhythm, loco-motor and non-locomotor movements.

She piloted the program at UD’s Early Learning Center and will collaborate with Downes Elementary School in Newark in the fall.

“The students really seemed to enjoy it. The lesson plans reach a wider range of learners. Instead of just sitting at their desks listening, students learned through participation. Quarter notes can be related to currency. Four beats to a measure, four quarters to a dollar. I taught them basic tunes that they could clap or tap or sing and showed how it related to money. “

Both Ryan and Boccardi participated in UD’s Undergraduate Research and Service Scholar Symposium on Aug. 8. They said they found the program to be very beneficial, collaborating with classmates and exploring new methods of teaching. Ryan will also present her work at the National Dance Education Organization Conference in October, thanks to an ArtsBridge scholarship.

“I have been doing research as an ArtsBridge Scholar since my freshman year and am currently analyzing my results to develop my Senior Thesis,” said Ryan. “I aspire to continuing this research in the future as well as to bring arts-integrated learning into my future career as an elementary school teacher.”

Article by Alison Burris

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