Dance in the classroom is all about children having opportunities for exploration and discovery. As we do in science experiments, in dance children create a hypothesis about how they will use the elements of dance, they experiment through improvisation, draw conclusions about the results and then report, either orally, physically or in written form about what happened.
Turning STEM into STEAM is widely accepted as promoting critical thinking skills, communication, and creativity.
Dance, science, history.
Our prehistoric ancestors used dance as a way of bonding, thereby ensuring their chances of survival, according to a 2006 study in the Public Library of Science genetics journal. (Ebstein, 2006) They traced two genes from current dancers that identified a predisposition to being a good communicator.
Steven J. Mithen in his book “The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language and Body” (Harvard University Press, 2006) asserts that having these communication powers made dance an important interaction tool for Neanderthals. Mithen also identifies the importance of dance as a part of mating rituals where the strength of a partner was the difference between life and death.
He contends that humans with the ability to dance would have strong physical attributes including coordination and balance. The physical benefits of dance in our age has been researched at length and includes identifying strength and endurance, flexibility and agility and advanced fine and gross motor skills as some of the attributes of dancers.
Cognition and dance
Many of the same cognitive processes are used in dance as in science. They both use anticipation and prediction, problem solving and planning as well as pattern recognition.
Using science experiments that you do in class as a stimulus for making dance, encourages children to discover new ways of communicating results. Of course, the class has experienced the science but then students have a chance to represent their findings through movement.
Since 1971 scientists have been representing their discoveries through dance as a part of Dance Your Ph.D. Looking at the original science dance about Protein synthesis will provide insights into the learning that could occur on multiple levels by doing this kind of a dance science collaboration.
You can encourage further problem solving by making a dance from scientific findings and check for student understanding of the original science experiment.
Science experiments for dance activities
Key to the success of this combination of dance and science is a clear understanding, by both the students and the teacher, of both areas of study. The students must clearly understand the science behind the experiment. Just watching the process is not enough. A written activity that asks the students to explain the results will ensure that they are clear about what they have observed.
Of equal importance is the students understanding what elements of dance they are using and why. It is not enough to visually mimic the experiment. The use of movement must add to the understanding of the science.
As they gather the information they already know, ask the students: What occurred in the experiment? Why did that phenomenon occur?
As they plan for movement, ask the students: How will you represent it? What dance elements do you plan to use?
On reflection, ask the students: Why you have chosen those movements? What has made the results of the experiment clearer through the movement?
To help the students make connections between dance and science as processes, you could use the documentation structure from the experiment. Consider using these headings:
Each experiment has its own title that describes what it is investigating. Dance also uses titles but not always in the literal form. Students can find the contrasts between the literal and the abstract.
The planning stage of both science experiment and movement experiment could require materials. The students could make suggestions for music, sound, stimulus objects or props that they may need to have on hand to assist with their dance.
The science hypothesis asks the students to make a prediction about what they are exploring while still leaving room for unexpected discoveries. The dance predictions could be about what they envisage their dance to be and their ideas for making the dance.
This is a step by step description of what you did in the experiment. This is a great beginning to get students journaling about making dance. It documents the processes of choreography and reminds them of how things worked in the past and how they could use them in the future.
This requires students to reflect on their dance. Try to link the dance achievements for each year level to the questions you will be asking in this reflective phase.
For example, in the P-2 band you could ask them to describe the effect of the dance they made and how did it make them feel. In years 3-4 they may be required to describe and discuss the similarities and differences between each groups dance. For years 5-6 they could have to explain why they chose the elements of dance or the props they used to represent the experiment.
This is an opportunity for a deeper reflection on the dance making process and the science behind the experiment. They can identify what they were right about, what was different and what was challenging. It takes their reflections further towards reflexivity.
My favourite science experiments to use for dance activities.
Using dance and science together allows the creative and imaginary world of dance to connect with the questioning and reason of science. A creative combination of science and art is a process that few students will forget. It leads the students to imagine new ways of scientific communication in an ever changing world.
For more ideas about how you can use science and dance in your classroom take a look at the Free Lesson plans.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Are Dancers Genetically Different Than The Rest Of Us? Yes, Says Hebrew University Researcher.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 February 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060213183707.htm>.