Artists in Fairfax County, Va., have spent the past two years figuring out ways to use art to introduce science, technology, engineering and math to young children and are sharing what they’ve learned with educators and community leaders in Baton Rouge.
Rachel Knudson and Akua Kouyate, with the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in suburban Washington, D.C., came to Baton Rouge on Wednesday as part of the Academic Distinction Fund’s distinguished speaker series, which is focused heavily on the importance of early childhood education.
The sponsor of the speaker series is ExxonMobil, which supports many early childhood initiatives and programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The Wolf Trap foundation is halfway through a four-year $1.15 million U.S. Department of Education grant, exploring ways that STEM can be taught to children ages 3-6.
Knudson, a master teacher artist who works with Wolf Trap’s Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, walked an audience at the Manship Theatre through some art exercises and focused on dance.
“Movement is the first language of children,” Knudson said. “It’s how they explore the world.”
At a couple of points, Knudson had the audience participate.
Knudson had seven audience members get on stage and stand in a straight line. She gave them each a red or green circle that she had them place on the ground in front of them.
Then she had the audience members pick up their circles and dance.
After several seconds of adults skipping and boogying randomly, Knudson told them to freeze and drop their circles on the ground.
What the adults demonstrated is a mathematical concept called “conservation.” There were still just seven circles, whether they were in a straight line or spread out across the stage, she said.
“See, the quantity remains the same but their form keeps shifting,” Knudson said.
Kouyate, senior director of Wolf Trap Education, pointed to two recent studies showing that infusing the arts into preschool grades and kindergarten brings positive results for children in Virginia and with one of the group’s affiliates in Georgia.
Kouyate, however, said the initial results from its latest STEM work won’t be released until Oct. 30 and those numbers will reflect only one year of data.
“Stay tuned,” she said.
The STEM study has worked mostly so far with connecting math and art, Kouyate said, but is doing more this year tying art to science and engineering.
After the presentation, Wayne Talbot, director of fine arts for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the school system has for years brought in visiting artists to select schools through a grant with the Kennedy Foundation of Washington, D.C., though they work with children of many ages, not just young children.
Talbot said the approach works well.
Richard Baker, fine arts coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Education, said while many schools do similar work in math and science with young children, Wolf Trap’s ongoing research study in Virginia is one of the largest he’s heard of.
Baker said he has reviewed a lot of research examining the pros and cons of infusing arts in schools, and many of the studies show a wide range of benefits, including increased student achievement.
“There is no research that says it hurts,” he said.
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