At Brightwood, STEM as performance art
The math lesson in Kalpana Kumar Sharma's pre-school classroom one morning last week was about ordinal numbers. (Remember? Numbers that tell the position or order of a group of objects, ie. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) To get the point across, Sharma yielded the bumblebee-studded classroom carpet to Paige Hernandez, whose resume introduces her as "teaching artist, actor, dancer and hip hop advocate." She is also a resident at the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts.
"Let's review our performance tools!" Hernandez told the 15 or so four-year olds.
They shook their legs to count to five, tapped their feet to six, shook their hands to eight. Hernandez warmed up their voices. They sang high, then low, then burst into a staccato laugh.
Wolf Trap educators have embedded the arts into classroom instruction for years. But they are now moving into one of education's hottest areas, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Wolf Trap a four-year, $1.15-million grant to develop arts-based STEM teaching strategies.
"It's not as far-fetched as one might think," said Mimi Flaherty Willis, Wolf Trap's senior director of education.
Hernandez, a luminous 30-year-old with a couple of one-woman shows to her credit, is in an eight-week residency at Brightwood Education Campus. Last week's 40-minute lesson was built around "Never Too Little to Love," the story of Tiny Too-Little the mouse, who wants a kiss from a giraffe. To get it, he stacks random objects one on top of the other: a thimble, a matchbox, a watermelon, a teacup, a cabbage, a candle, a clock and a cupcake and stilts.
The kids counted the objects, and the order they were in. Then, with a flourish, Hernandez produced a box filled with figures from the story, including Tiny Too-Little and the giraffe. She lay them on the carpet with red cards beside each, calling children to pick out the objects in their proper order.
Willis said Wolf Trap is still working on how to convert STEM'S "T" and E" into a pre-school classroom, but she promised that it's coming soon. In the meantime, Hernandez will be back next week to talk about sorting patterns.
"Adios, Ms. Paige," the kids said in unison.
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