Spreading the Word

Teaching a subject through a new art form feels less daunting after not only seeing a successful idea modeled in a classroom setting, but actually participating in the learning as a student. At Community Arts: Connecting Neighborhoods and Classrooms, the 13th Annual Arts Integration Conference at UMBC, academic teachers were given the opportunity to see and do in a number of classrooms on campus.

Workshop participants learned, for example, the art storytelling with Laura Wexler of  The Stoop Storytelling Series, how to connect ELA and STEAM with designing and building kinetic sculptures with FutureMakers, and ways to integrate theatre standards with language arts standards.

Participants in one class learned how to teach mathematics through wring poetry. Teachers of grade levels ranging from Pre-K through adult learners convened to learn from North County High School (NCHS) Algebra teacher Ashley Russell and Young Audiences roster artist and spoken word poet Femi the Drifish. Their workshop Right On, Then Say Word: Poetic Mathematics was developed through a lesson they have been successfully co-teaching since the 2017-18 school year.

The pair shared their collective experience working with students and showed examples of student work and performances. Femi (his students address him as Mr. Fish) gave the teachers a small taste of his signature style and shared other arts-integrated lessons he’s taught over the years, encouraging them to think about the intersection of language and math in word problems and popular mnemonic devices like PEMDAS (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally).

At the end of the hour, the teachers had not only enjoyed their time, they learned to create, revise, and perform their own spoken word poetry using mathematical terms. They felt confident that they could use poetry to teach material in their own classrooms. And their students will most certainly enjoy the challenge, pride, creative thinking, and accomplishment that comes from learning through this art form.

You can read more about their partnership in the classroom and how students learn Algebra through the practice of writing and performing slam poetry here.

In 2017, North County High School Math Department Chair Amy Goodman began working to bring arts integration to all of the school’s 9th grade Algebra 1 classes. Thanks to the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, these students have studied with a variety of professional teaching artists. In addition to Femi the DriFish, Algebra 1 students have worked with TAHIRA, Skher Brown, and Kevin MartinSince beginning this effort, the school’s Algebra I PARCC scores have shown double-digit gains (not to mention, students nurtured their creative sides exploring storytelling, learning to play steel drums, expressing themselves through poetry, and practicing the art of Capoeira Angola).

Storytelling Visualized Assigning Functions to a Narrative

Storytelling Visualized: Assigning Functions to a Narrative

You can feel a good story in your core- the sadness, the suspense, the bitterness, and the beauty. We are good at registering and reacting to all of the characters, events, and plot twists a story throws at us, but have you ever tried to look at one through the eyes of a mathematician? What would a story look like without words, without pictures, its content plotted on a graph?

YA teaching artist and storyteller TAHIRA and Amy Goodman, Math Department Chair at North County High School (NCHS), collaborated in the development of a unique residency through the Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) to show just that. NCHS is one of 12 in Northern Anne Arundel County benefiting from professional development like TAI, in-school arts integration, and out-of-school arts programming as part of the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI), a partnership aimed at ensuring equitable access to the arts for Northern Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

The Algebra 1 NCHS students studied different function families and the elements of storytelling, listened to a variety of stories, then tried to determine which algebraic function best described each one.

TAHIRA: What happened that surprised you?

Student: As you were telling the story, the story was compared to math- because events were escalating like in a graph. And then when events took a downfall in the story, the graph started decreasing.

TAHIRA: Then the class had to describe what function the story plotted out, right?

Student: Exponential.

TAHIRA: Yeah, it was exponential. And you had a reaction to all that. What did you say? Do you remember what you said?

Student: I was surprised at how the story could be compared to math.

Each student was asked to illustrate why they chose a particular function over another to describe the characteristics of the story. Could there be more than one answer? Two students each shared their understanding of how a story unfolded by taking turns plotting it out on the same graph, compared and contrasted their unique perspectives, then decided if both functions made sense or if one more accurately described the story than the other.

TAHIRA: Did it make you look at storytelling differently? Or math differently- or help you understand the math?

Student: Yeah, it helped me understand how the graph can be compared to anything such as… in the story, when everything goes wrong, the graph decreases and it shows how it takes a negative effect.

TAHIRA: Exactly. And then?

Student: And then everything comes back together and that creates a positive effect.

TAHIRA: And we talked about the parts of a story: There’s a beginning…

Student: A middle and an end… when there’s a conflict, the two forces, the positive and the negative collide and whoever wins- that’s how the story plays out.

TAHIRA: Exactly, how it plays out- that’s right, it’s called a resolution.

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).