Children, don’t sit still in class

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By Nick Carne

Wriggling in class is usually frowned upon and the idea of maths lessons getting a bit physical is the stuff of teacher nightmares. But it may be the way of the future.

A project under way in South Australia is showing how drama, dance and other types of art and creativity can help primary school children get their heads around everything from angles to equations and enjoy the process.

Currently five artists are working with teachers in eight schools, developing new ways to get across old ideas. The results have been quite staggering and the focus now is on how to harness the potential of what is known as Creative Body-based Learning (CBL).

“It’s incredible the change in the students’ disposition in a relatively short period of time; from ‘I hate maths’ or ‘I’m dumb I don’t get it’ to ‘maths is fun and when can we do more’,” said project coordinator Tess Syme, from youth arts organisation Carclew. “The exciting bit is being in the classroom and seeing the artist and the teacher working together to create something that really works.”

Maths was chosen both because it has always been a subject where student motivation is a problem and because it is a bit out of left field. “To have done this with literacy would have been a bit too obvious,” said Carclew’s CEO, Tricia Walton. “We thought maths and numeracy would make people sit up and take notice – which it has.”

Carclew is running the project in partnership with the University of Texas in Austin (UTA’s Assistant Professor Katie Dawson is the pioneer of the CBL approach), with support from South Australia’s Department of Education & Child Development (DECD) and UniSA.

Three years in, DECD has started trialling a few of the new ideas within its programs, Carclew is investigating how to package the concept to make it more widely available to schools, and UniSA is completing a formal study into how and why CBL works and the potential to expand it into other subjects and even to older students.

Carclew engages and trains the artists – all of whom are working artists with teaching experience – and is now looking to start training some of them as trainers who can help get others on board and quickly up to speed as interest and demand grow.

For Carclew it’s an artistic win-win. “Everything we do is to ensure that children have creative lives and one avenue is to have more engaging and creative learning environments,” Tricia Walton said.

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