Stem on the Stage

Look outside early one summer morning. Before your eyes, nature is performing. All of the animals perfectly cast for their unique roles with the landscape as the stage. Notice the musical accompaniment: the singing of birds, the chirping of insects, and the bustle of wind through the trees. Through theater and music, students can connect to and join in on the performance of the natural world around them.

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Students playing the Migration Obstacle Course

You may wonder, “Why would I use the performing arts as a means of teaching STEM content to my students?” In fact, numerous scientific studies point to the benefits of using multimodal arts, like music or drama, in order to reinforce lessons. Kinesthetic learning incorporates physical activity into the learning experience and can put the A in “STEAM” by adding art to the traditional STEM curriculum. This is a powerful way to make STEM fields more interactive and engaging for students. Using theater or music helps students to better interpret and understand what they are learning by engaging their senses and creativity.

A study published in The Journal of Research in Science Teaching demonstrated that multimodal learning, such as drama, helped students form personal connections with the scientific systems they were studying.  They reported that acting gave the students more appreciation and empathy, deepening the connection that they formed. They concluded that because the students “became” the organism or system that they were studying, they were able to emotionally and intellectually engage with the material. As a result, the learning experience was made richer and more complete.

How can you incorporate kinesthetic learning to transform your STEM curriculum into a STEAM curriculum? Take inspiration from the intricate courtship dances of the magnificent Birds-of-Paradise or the stern-looking Albatross (watch them dance below). Challenge your students to watch real birds dance and then perform a dance inspired by what they saw. This is a great way to start a unit on evolution or selection, and could meet learning goals in new and engaging ways.

For many, the arts offer a creative alternative for sparking greater interest and deeper understanding of STEM topics. There are many resources available to help you learn how to incorporate the arts into your curriculum, whatever the subject, as well as numerous examples online that offer some inspiration and ideas. You don’t have to be an actor, dancer, singer, or artist to incorporate kinesthetic learning into your curriculum. Use these resources as a starting point, and work with your students to discover what sort of kinesthetic activities work best in your classroom. Whether they write a song or play, or go outside and make a themed obstacle course, let the creativity run wild. Soon you and your students will be seeing nature’s magnificent play with new eyes.

Going Further:

Here are more resources to inspire you to incorporate kinesthetic learning into your teaching:

  • All About Birds: learn the basics about the biology, appearances, and common calls of bird species.
  • Guatemala Migration video: get inspired by this obstacle course in Guatemala designed to simulate bird migration.

  • Flying with the Birds: a video of kids who really “became” the birds that they studied.
  • Feathered Friends curriculum: Lesson 4 of this free kit is called “Move Like A Bird” and is a great way to get started.
  • Habitat Connections Kit: Migration Obstacles and Bird Survivor are just two of the interactive lessons in this kit that incorporate movement and games into learning.
  • Celebrate Urban Birds: discover the beauty of the birds in your urban area and how you can appreciate them through art.

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  1. Pingback: Birds Connecting a Continent : Cornell Lab of Ornithology: BirdSleuth K-12

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