The Flavor of Math: Understanding Algebraic Terms

What do you call a collection of two or more equations using the same set of unknowns? Can you identify the variables and constants in a mathematic expression? Why would a person ever use the Method of Matrices? If you were an Algebra student, you’d be committing these definitions, methods, and terms to memory, filling your lexicon with the language of math.

“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” Any veteran language learner will tell you that old adage. Being challenged to use their new vocabulary in a different context is one way to help students become (and remain) fluent. To encourage this, Amy Goodman, Math Department Chair of North County High School (NCHS) in Northern Anne Arundel County, coordinated an artist residency developed by YA artist and spoken word poet Femi the DriFish in collaboration with the school’s Algebra 1 team. Artist residencies, like this one, came to the school thanks to the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative.

Through the initiative, schools in Northern Anne Arundel County are learning to use arts integration as a strategy for boosting student achievement and engagement. Classroom teachers and school administrators are building sustainable partnerships with teaching artists and arts organizations that inspire students and use the creative process to make meaningful, real-world connections to the curriculum.

“Mr. Fish!” NCHS students announced Femi the DriFish’s arrival. The artist is a master of illustrating the meaning of words through poetry and, through literary guidance, builds a strong rapport with the young scholars. For this residency, Femi worked with students to write poems within small groups on the topic where I’m from.

The 9th graders brainstormed over how to use the algebraic vocabulary words scribed onto the backs of index cards to convey their thoughts: function, common difference, output, relation. The language usually reserved for Algebra class became double entendres in lyrics carrying messages of citizenship, diversity, and pride. “If you use the terms correctly,” Femi said, “you remember the definition. You retain it and can access it later.”

“Like parallel lines, some soulmates never meet,” one student revealed in his group’s performance. Some soloists represented their classmates. “Word pairs are like the relation to life, we are all like terms so we don’t have to fight.”

NCHS Algebra teacher Mrs. Russell was pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of creativity. “I’m seeing different things and personalities from kids that I don’t normally see,” the teacher said. “They’re a lot more excited than I thought they’d be!”

As they industriously crafted metaphors and similes, cleverly using their new vocabulary as figurative language, debate arose over whether or not the verses should rhyme. “It never has to rhyme,” Femi advised. “It’s how you perform it that gives it flavor.” He taught the children to confidently use body language by analyzing performing techniques and discussing what is needed to relay a message. “It’s all about how to effectively communicate with your audience,” Femi said. Scholars rehearsed the delivery of their collaborative poetry to truly express their emotions, communicate their history, and challenge the audience to walk in their shoes.

The students did not disappoint. “Like parallel lines, some soulmates never meet,” one student revealed in his group’s performance. Most groups selected just a few students to deliver their words in the culminating performance. Some soloists represented their classmates. “Word pairs are like the relation to life, we are all like terms so we don’t have to fight.” Performers garnered many cheers and rousing support from the teachers and peers populating the auditorium. And everyone involved in the residency left with a much stronger understanding of algebraic vocabulary and a knowledge of terms they won’t soon forget.

So, what do you call a collection of two or more equations with the same set of unknowns? A system. You call it a system.

The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative is the combined effort of many groups and individuals seeking to build a movement for increased equity through the arts in their community. With funding from the NEA in 2016, we built partnerships with Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC), Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS), Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, and University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC).

North County High School: Creating Learning Opportunities Through the Arts

The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI) is aimed at ensuring equitable access to the arts for Northern Anne Arundel County Public Schools through in-school arts integration, out-of-school arts programming, and professional development for teachers. Now in its second year, the initiative has been expanded to include all twelve schools in the region thanks to generous funding from the National Endowment for the Arts!

North County High School

Notable among the additional schools is the North County High School (NCHS). All students in every other school impacted by AEMI are zoned to complete their secondary education at this high school. North County High School’s new designation as an AEMI school will enable local students to continue their learning through arts integration throughout their school years. This creates a unique opportunity for the school to serve as a beacon for arts engagement, not just for high school students, but for the whole Northern Anne Arundel County community.

NCHS is already home to a variety of performing band and orchestra ensembles, and offers students the opportunity to become involved in a number of in-school and after-school arts activities. “The medium of music is a fantastic way to teach some wonderful life lessons as part of the comprehensive program at North County,” wrote NCHS Music Director Theresa Bange on the school’s extensive music program’s webpage. The school climate encourages a culture of respect for the arts in its many forms. NCHS has also shown a commitment to innovation, offering special programs including the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Magnet Program, the IT3 (International Trade, Transportation, and Tourism) Program, and the Early College Access program.

This year, the high school will participate in several arts-integrated opportunities where artists will professionally deliver instruction through the arts. Math Department chair Amy Goodman is leading the charge of integrating the arts at North County High. She is currently coordinating a residency developed by YA artist and spoken word poet Femi the DriFish in collaboration with the school’s Algebra 1 team as well as collaborating with theatre artist, storyteller, and YA roster artist TAHIRA to develop a residency through the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI). Also through TAI, 9th grade algebra teacher Sarah Dobry is collaborating with steel drummer, Kevin Martin, integrating music with the curriculum!

“It’s all about creating opportunities,” said Mrs. Goodman. She recalled her experience working with teaching artist Carolyn Koerber in the previous school year. “There was one student who struggled all year, but finally felt success working with Carolyn. Bringing artists into the classroom is an amazing opportunity for not only our students, but for faculty as well.”

We are looking forward to sharing the collaborative work of YA artists and educators in arts integration at North County High School over the next few months and for years to come.

The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative is the combined effort of many groups and individuals seeking to build a movement for increased equity through the arts in their community. With funding from the NEA in 2016, we built partnerships with Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC), Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS), Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, and University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC).

Celebrate Black History Month Through the Arts

With Black History Month upon us, we celebrate the contributions, activism, culture, and experience of African Americans. Many of our artists at Young Audiences have designed performances and assemblies to connect students with African American history and develop an in-depth understanding of the unique stories, struggles, and accomplishments of the past and the present. The following are just a few of the many talented artists available to bring a meaningful connection to African American history into your school.

Black History Month
Pianist Kevin Gift

Kevin Gift introduces renown jazz pianists from Thelonius Monk and Art Tatum to Keith Jarrett in his assembly, Jazz Piano Masters. Students learn not only about the important contributions these musicians made to American music, but they also experience how improvisation can make practicing anything more enjoyable and personally satisfying.

Black History Month
Actress Debra Mims


Debra Mims
has been an actress for over thirty years and was an arts producer at PBS for fourteen years. With additional training in dance, she received a BFA in Theatre Performance from Marygrove College in Detroit, Michigan. She has performed at the Georgetown Theatre Company, the Children’s Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Detroit-Windsor Dance Company.

In My Grandmother Told Me: A Tribute to African-American Women, Debra uses monologues, poetry, and song to tell tales of days past and of courageous Black women and their struggles to be free, to vote, and to get an education.

Professional spoken word artist and slam poet Femi the DriFish uses his artistry to encourage his listeners to discover their own unique voices and identities in his writings, performances, and teachings. His poetry performance, Write On, Then Say Word! is a spoken word/slam poetry journey through the various reasons to write and perform. Throughout the assembly, Femi shows students that they can draw subject matter for poetry from their identity and history.

Black History Month
Poet Femi the DriFish

Young Audiences' Sun

Schedule artists and programming to celebrate Black History Month by visiting our website.

Meet our artists-Ballet Theatre

Meet our artists: Ballet Theatre of Maryland

Meet our artists-Ballet Theatre

Young Audiences’ roster of artists continues to grow to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms, from slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters.

We’ll be regularly posting interviews with our artists, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences bringing their Young Audiences programs to schools. We recently sat down with Dianna Cuatto of Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

How did you first hear about Young Audiences?

My predecessor joined Young Audiences before I came to Ballet Theatre of Maryland 12 years ago, and it was my first experience with the organization. Other dance companies that I worked with hadn’t done anything like it, so I did my research and found that I really liked Young Audiences’ mission statement and philosophy. When I completed my first Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) seminar, I found it very helpful for connecting education with art to help students better their lives.

What has been the most memorable part of the programs you’ve brought to students with Young Audiences?

Seeing the impact the arts can have on so many lives is the most memorable part. When we go out to schools, we see how it touches the lives of the students we are able to either perform for or work with during an arts-integrated artist-in-residence program. We have learned so much from Young Audiences and have gained tools that we use in our other educational program offerings, too.

There are a lot of students who have never had exposure to ballet. Do you find that bringing classical ballet to schools can be a unique opportunity for students?

Absolutely. Whenever I ask a school what they hope the students will get out of a program, they want their students to have that exposure to a real ballet. One thing that Ballet Theatre of Maryland does that’s different from other ballet companies I’ve been a part of is that we actually bring a real ballet to the students so they can have that experience. It’s very rewarding and our dancers enjoy doing it. The students express how much they love it. Some students may never have known that they enjoy ballet if they hadn’t been exposed to it during one of our programs at their school.

Meet our artists-Ballet Theatre2

How does your art form connect students to what they are learning in school?

We do a lot of literary and historical pieces. For example, our assembly “Pirates of the Chesapeake” is based on pirate history. We also have an assembly, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and other programs that may relate to what they are studying in school. There is also the production of excerpts from “Excalibur” which we call the “Medieval Festival.” We mirrored it after a mini-Renaissance festival so students get experience with coats of arms and other material they learn about from that time period through dance.

How do the lessons and skills you teach students through your art form apply to their everyday lives outside of the classroom?

It seems that everything we do relates to their everyday lives. Our most popular assembly, “An American Journey through Dance,” teaches students about the many different cultures in our country. They are able to experience aspects of those different cultures through dance. There is something about the emotions and passions through the expression of dance that provides tools to understand each other, which is a very powerful thing for all of us. There is a culture embedded in all of the art that we do, and it is our place to pass it on.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Young Audiences roster artist?

One aspect would be the opportunity to see what other colleagues are doing, and how they are using the arts to impact children. Just being a part of the roster and being involved with different schools to see what children are able to gain through our programs is so rewarding. When you put all of the roster artists together, it creates a great tapestry of wonderful things students are able to experience in all of our different areas.

Why do you believe dance specifically–or the arts in general–is important for every student to have access to?

Our motto is: “Dance is a language more powerful than words.” No matter what language children speak, they can understand what you’re saying through dance. This is true for many art forms. We can communicate and break down barriers through that powerful language. It’s not just that studies show how art impacts students and helps them learn, it’s that we know the arts engage students in all of the senses, allowing them to experience it first-hand so they learn more intensely. When something engages all of your senses, it is easier to remember and apply it to other areas or circumstances. Art provides all of the learning tools that different children need because they learn in different ways.

Learn more about Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s offerings through Young Audiences.

Keep an eye out for more artist interviews! See all artist interviews to-date here.

Meet our artists: Mark Lohr

Meet our artists_Mark Lohr2

Young Audiences’ roster of artists continues to grow to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms, from slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters.

We’ll be regularly posting interviews with our artists, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences bringing their Young Audiences programs to schools. 

How did you hear about Young Audiences? What made you decide to become a roster artist?

I started my apprenticeship with Theatricks Theatre Company, where my performing mentor had a show as a Young Audiences roster artist. I took a break from performing for a bit, and when I decided to come back I immediately thought of Young Audiences as a great organization to work with because of my past experience. I have been on the roster for about 10 years now.

Can you tell us a little bit about your art form?

My art form is Vaudeville-style physical comedy. During the performances, I interact with the audience nonverbally and become a combination of circus clown, comic actor, juggler, and magician.

The creation of vaudeville is such an influential time in our history. Entertainment was revolutionized for the vaudeville stage, and technologies were invented to make shows more impressive using special effects, lighting, and more. We don’t have an opportunity to see that style of slapstick, nonverbal comedy anymore.

How do the lessons and skills you teach students through your art form apply to their everyday lives outside of the classroom?

During a vaudeville performance, students have to listen more with their eyes than ears. They have to interpret what my character is communicate without words and respond accordingly.  Sitting there and taking it in with all their senses gets them involved. In a typical theatrical performance, there is a “fourth wall.” There is a performance or show, but the audience is on the other side of that fourth wall so there is no interaction. I put the wall behind the audience so each performance is a new experience–you never know what you’re going to get with each crowd that comes in.

Meet our artists_Mark Lohr

The performance becomes a shared memory for students. It’s multi-cultural and multi-generational entertainment. You bring a school together with a performance where they laugh and have a great time. They share that wonderful memory, and can relate to each other more because of it.

Why do you believe theater is important for every student to have access to?

Vaudeville is such an important era in our history that we shouldn’t forget. It has a great significance in our culture today. Television shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice” follow in the tradition of vaudeville.

But a live performance is so important because, all too often, many students’ primary performance venue is a television or movie theater. There is nothing wrong with these things, but when you go to a live performance you’re immersed and surrounded by it so that you become a part of it. I feel that it is my job to reach out to schools and students who may never have the opportunity to see a live professional performance. In our education, it’s extremely important to give students that experience.

How does your art form help connect students to what they are learning in school?

Hooked on Books” is my reading program where the audience has to listen and develop a response to everything I do. The main lesson I want them to walk away with is that books are more than stories, they are also gateways to new skills! I also share that it is OK to experience failure because to learn a new skill you have fail. The idea that failure isn’t a bad thing, but a part of the process, is a wonderful lesson.

What has been the most memorable part of the programs you’ve brought to students with Young Audiences?

From a performance standpoint, to be able to engage these students and have them become a part of my performance is a wonderful gift to me, and it’s my gift to them. They are laughing, responding to what I’m doing, enjoying the moment, and not thinking about what’s going to happen in the next hour.

In my residency, “America’s Got Vaudeville,” I talk about the significance of vaudeville and teach its skills and comic techniques. Our goal is to put on a show at the end. When I see there is a student who sits out in the corner not quite fitting in, I can reach out to them and teach him or her juggling or plate-spinning, and see his or her whole person change. They discover they have a new talent and skill and can share it with their classmates. Their peers begin to see each other in a different light and overcome social and cultural boundaries.  They share a common bond.  The look on students’ faces when they succeed in a new skill for the first time is a huge reward for me.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Young Audiences roster artist?

Young Audiences gives me the opportunity to share gifts that were given to me. My mentor gave me this knowledge with the one caveat of having to share it. It’s so important for me to have different venues where I can go out and give it away, and can see people walking away with a piece of the gift that was given to me. It impacts people’s lives, and I’m grateful that Young Audiences allows me to do that.

Learn more about Mark Lohr’s offerings through Young Audiences.

Keep an eye out for more artist interviews! See all artist interviews to-date here.

Allowing students space to breathe and grow through theatre

Westland_synetic

By Sherion Cosby, Theatre and Television Production teacher at Westland Middle School

Middle school is an awkward stage when you don’t know who you are sometimes. I believe that theatre has a special ability that allows students room to breathe and learn about themselves. So many of my middle school students—even some of my high school students—need this space. They are body-conscious and hair-conscious and wondering, “Am I good enough?” and, “Do I fit in this clique?” But when they step on stage, theatre helps them let go of these worries.

Young Audiences ensemble Synetic Theater recently completed a residency at Westland Middle and it truly was an awesome experience for the students to see role models who exhibit a carefree but committed attitude in theatre. The actors from Synetic showed my students that they can step out of themselves and go ahead and do their thing. It brought them so much freedom.

I knew of Young Audiences and reached out to them because I knew I had a wonderful group of eighth graders who I wanted to expose to another level of theatre through a residency program. I wanted them to look at theatre the way professional actors do and experience different methods and styles. I also wanted to include the sixth and seventh graders in the residency because I was hoping to whet their appetite for theatre. I wanted to build that desire to participate in theatre at school. I wanted them to see that it is not just fun—that there is skill involved.

Synetic taught students that they should think of their bodies as their acting instruments and introduced theatre exercises that focused on warming up the body. Students no longer saw acting as just walking on stage and reciting lines. With Synetic, they had to think of warming up the neck and the head and the eyes and the legs. During these exercises, students also practiced concentration and mindfulness.

Westland_synetic2

See more photos from the residency here!

Synetic worked with students on movement and characterization. I wanted my students to have the latitude and freedom to be someone other than themselves on stage. It is hard to overcome the fear of rejection from their peers when trying something new, but Synetic was able to pull them from where they were to a new place. As a teacher, it gave me what I needed in terms of getting students to step outside themselves. Synetic made my job so much easier.

At the start of the residency, I was concerned about one student, Matthew*, who is a talented athlete. I worried that he would be hard to engage in the program because he did not identify himself as an actor. During the program I saw Matthew change when he saw the male actors from Synetic demonstrating the theatre exercises. The actors also singled him out with praise during the various activities, saying, “That is really good. I like that. Keep doing that.” Matthew has totally changed since this experience. He can’t wait to get to theatre class now. He has come to see himself in a new light—he is not just an athlete but an actor, too.

During the residency culminating event, the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders all had a chance to demonstrate what they had been working on with Synetic in front of their classmates and parents. After they saw the feedback and applause from the audience, my students walked out of the media center like they had just delivered the best performance in the world. They were thrilled with what they accomplished in such a short period of time.

In theatre class students build relationships and bonds. They know that it is an environment where they can truly be themselves. They can express themselves and no one will judge them. They can be silly and ridiculous, and no idea is crazy or dumb. Because of this residency we were able to expose more students to the power of theatre, especially those who may not have opted to take a theatre class before this experience.

It is great to be able to rely on resources and partners like Young Audiences to reach the goals that you have in mind for your students, and that is exactly what happened with this residency. It took my kids to a place where they are comfortable being on the stage and outside of themselves.

Learn more about Synetic Theater and their program offerings here.

*Names of students have been changed to protect their privacy.