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Posted at 9:29 AM ET, 11/22/2010

At Brightwood, STEM as performance art

By Bill Turque

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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By Bill Turque  | November 22, 2010; 9:29 AM ET
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What a fun and engaging way to teach math and science before the children decide it's too hard or they don't like it. Keep up the good work Ms. Hernandez.

Posted by: couper | November 22, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Kumar Sharma's classroom is a model for high quality Pre-K. Kumar is an experienced, extremely creative,talented and dedicated teacher, one of the shinning stars of the DCPS teaching force.

Posted by: highquality4kids | November 22, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

That's great. Good things to come in the future no doubt. STEM focus at the pre-k level and next a state of an art 100 million dollar new STEM focus high-school getting ready to open in mere months in northeast DC. Who would've thunk-it.

Posted by: PowerandPride | November 23, 2010 6:41 AM | Report abuse

Kumar Sharma is a great teacher. She has experience with Center for Inspired Teaching.

Posted by: dcparent | November 23, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

It's great to use art in teaching.

Posted by: jlp19 | November 24, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Mrs. Kumar is a great teacher who has creative ways to get through to the younger minds of her students.

Posted by: nirvanasharma | November 25, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

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