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Connecting with the Arts: A Teaching Practices Library, 6-8

Two Dance Collaborations

In a first-time collaboration, a dance teacher and a science teacher combine forces to explore the laws of motion with a seventh- and eighth-grade dance class. At another school, a dance teacher and a math teacher work with sixth graders on imaginative interpretations of the idea of circles.



Sheridan Global Arts and Communications School / FAIR School


Minneapolis, MN / Crystal, MN


6, 7, 8


Dance & Science
Dance & Math


Physical forces and geometric concepts are explored through dance and movement.

The Integrated Instruction

Part One: Learning the Laws of Motion

Roberta Carvalho-Puzon, Dance Teacher
Growing up I had a passion for dance and a fascination for physics, I am bringing these areas together for my students, I hope! The collaboration with Kevin started with the two of us holding our hands together and pushing and pulling. It became apparent that we were going to deal with gravity, the laws of motion, balanced and unbalanced forces.

Kevin Hennessy, 8th-Grade Science Teacher
When I first started working with Roberta and we conferred about whether science might intersect with dance, it got us into a deeper discussion about why we’re teachers. What I’m finding about collaborating is that you need to just start in a certain direction and see where it goes.


Part Two: The Circle Project

Scott Charlesworth-Seiler, 6th-Grade Teacher
The circle project is an interdisciplinary project that combines learning in dance with learning in math, and ties in to all our other subjects as well. We have studied cyclical behaviors in human interaction and in literature, we’ve studied cycles in science, we’ve talked about how history repeats itself in various forms – all of those things tie together with the actual circles that the students make.

Stephanie Johnson, Dance Teacher
Scott and I are always really interested in seeing how we can give the kids opportunities to connect between what he’s doing and what I’m doing. So I’m asking the sixth-graders to represent in movement what they created for their circle projects, whether it be doughnuts or tennis balls!

Watching the Video

Before You Watch
Respond to the following questions.

  • How can dance be used to expand student learning in other disciplines?
  • How can dance help middle school students recognize, understand, and represent science and math concepts?
  • How can arts teachers work to infuse literacy, science and math components into their lessons or units?
  • How do students communicate what they’ve learned in your units? What role can dance play in this process?


Watch the Program
As you watch, note the differences and similarities in how the two sets of teachers integrate their lessons and disciplines in these dance collaborations? Write down what you notice. Note what role Kevin’s collaboration experience plays in the first segment. Also note how Stephanie connects dance to the math concepts covered in the circle project.


Reflect on the Program

  • How did the students express what they’ve learned in each of the collaborations?
  • What function did the visit by the first- and second-grade class serve in improving student learning? How could you duplicate these lessons in your classroom?
  • Which part of the units you saw would be most relevant to your practice?
  • What elements of these collaborations were successful?

Connecting to Your Teaching

Reflect on Your Practice

  • Are integrated thematic units commonly taught in your school?
  • Where does your art form intersect with science and math? Are there teachers in your school willing to explore integrated instruction or to provide resources for your own infusion?
  • How can you integrate science or math into your arts units?
  • How do you encourage students to represent their learning? What forms can these representations take?

Adaptations / Extensions to Consider

Scale it up: Try making a musical or ballet about the laws of motion, circles, or other math and science concepts, with students creating the script, score, choreography, and sets and performing for the school and their families.

Connect to History and Culture: Investigate the origins of these laws and prior laws, examining both how these concepts shifted over time and how they influenced cultures.

Add a language arts or music component: Ask students to write reviews of each other’s performances. Invite the music teacher into the classroom to illustrate mathematical qualities of music composition. Or ask students to compose scores for their classmates’ dance routines.

Additional Resources

Selected Unit Materials

“The Circle Project” Unit Overview: Examples and explanation of typical topics students study during this interdisciplinary unit (PDF)

“The Circle Project” Criteria and Scoring Guide: Criteria and scoring system for the circle project (PDF)

Print Resources

Blom, Anne & Chaplin, Tain L. The Intimate Act of Choreography. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982. ISBN: 0822953420

Boal, Augusto. Games for Actors and Non-Actors, (2nd edition). London and New York: Routledge, 2002. ISBN: 0415267080

Calais-Germain, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993. ISBN: 0939616173

Hartley, Linda. Wisdom of the Body Moving. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1995. ISBN: 1556431740

Humphrey, Doris. The Art of Making Dances. Chicago, Ill.: Independent Publishers Group, 1991. ASIN: 0802130739

McGreevy-Nichols, Susan, & Scheff, Helene. Building Dances: A Guide to Putting Movements Together (book and access edition). Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics Publishers, 1995. ISBN: 0873225732

Mirus, Judith, White, Elena, Bucek, Loren E., & Paulson, P. Dance Education Initiative Curriculum Guide, (2nd edition). Golden Valley, Minn.: Perpich Center for Arts Education, 1996.

Vaganova, Agrippina. Basic Principles of Classical Ballet, (revised edition). Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1969. ISBN: 0486220362

Web Sites

Science News Online
A weekly science news magazine with many articles about circles

Dave’s Math Tables: Circles
Circular definitions and formulas

Stone Circles of the Gambia

Photographs, essays, and diagrams about Gambian stone circles

Math Forum at Drexel
A lesson plan for drawing circle designs, part of an extensive math resource site for teachers, students, researchers, parents, and citizens

Manipula Math Applet Collections
More advanced circle mathematics

The Exploratorium: Museum of Science, Art,
and Human Perception
Circles of magnetism, a lesson plan for making a magnetic field stronger than the Earth’s

Circles: An Essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson
An essay for background information about the significance of circles

Visual Fractions
A math site with lessons and examples of fractions and circles

Dance Educator’s Coalition (DEC) of Minnesota
A network formed in 1986 to provide emotional and professional support to dance educators

The National Dance Education Organization (NDEO)
Represents the field in legislatures, schools of dance, preK-12 schools, and institutions of higher education throughout the country

Journal of Dance Education (JODE)
Advancing knowledge in dance education, encouraging practical application of current research, and promoting quality dance instruction

About the School

Sheridan Global Arts and Communications School, Minneapolis, Minn.

Sheridan is a K-8 fine arts magnet school, located in Minneapolis, Minn., which serves an urban population of predominantly Asian, African American, and Caucasian students. Global arts and communications form the core of Sheridan’s philosophy of education, with the arts and foreign languages central to all learning at Sheridan. The school and its students work with community arts partners to integrate the arts, global studies, and communications within learning activities.

The arts at Sheridan are infused throughout the curriculum and in the weekly and daily schedules. In seventh and eighth grade, students choose an art form to study every other day all year long. Course offerings range from drama, dance, choir, and band to visual art, ceramics, and African music. At Sheridan, part of the school philosophy is that students become literate by producing performances, exhibits, and publications as part of the learning process. The students must also demonstrate their acquired understandings and skills to real audiences for authentic purposes.

Sheridan is actively involved with community arts partners and institutions, including the Walker Arts Center, Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, the Bell Museum of Natural History, the Perpich Center for Arts Education, and area universities.

School information compiled from the Sheridan Global Arts and Communications School Web site:


The FAIR School,
Crystal, Minn.

The Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource (FAIR) School is a grades four-to-eight magnet school located in Crystal, Minn. that provides intercultural learning opportunities to 558 students from Minneapolis and the surrounding suburban school districts. The mission of FAIR School is tri-fold: intercultural learning, fine arts performance, and academic excellence.

The FAIR School was created by the West Metro Educational Program (WMEP), a voluntary consortium of 10 urban and suburban school districts in the Minneapolis metropolitan area that was formed in 1989 to cooperatively address integration issues. WMEP’s mission is to promote student success and community acceptance of differences by providing opportunities for students, families, and staff from diverse backgrounds to learn from and with each other.

Student admission for the FAIR School is based on an enrollment lottery held in each district. While there is no formal audition, it is important that students enjoy some level of success and interest in at least one area of the fine arts. Fine arts offerings include dance, vocal and instrumental music, theatre, visual art, and media arts.

School information compiled from the FAIR School Web site:

Q&A With Teachers

Roberta Carvalho-Puzon in dance class

Roberta Carvalho-Puzon, Dance Teacher

What were your goals for this initial collaboration with Kevin?

I wanted to throw myself into a new experience because I think you always learn so much more from doing things differently instead of in the same old way. My goal was to explore a national, state, and district dance standard, where students explore the connections between dance and other disciplines.

What were your goals for the students? What did you hope they would come away with, in terms of understandings and skills?

My goal for my students was for them to be able to leap away from our normal routine. I planned on including a completely new way of integrating a scientific concept into our curriculum, and hoped that it would lead to students generating new and exciting movement and choreography. Another great breakthrough was introducing the habit of journaling in dance class. I have always wanted to establish this with my dancers.

How do you adjust your instruction when the students aren’t getting the concepts you are teaching them?

You adjust and transform things as best as you can. You try one, two, three, four different ways, but if you are failing in your teaching to an entire class, you need to change your expectations completely, and still make the experience as successful as possible for everybody involved.

Scott Charlesworth-Seiler, 6th-Grade Teacher

Roughly how long does the circles project take?

We are developing a store of material to examine long before and long after the time when we actually create the circles – we read stories we’ll later review for circular ideas, look at historic events and scientific ideas we can re-examine, etc. It is difficult to say exactly how long we spend building students’ understanding as the process is ongoing and throughout most disciplines. The time we spend on the actual math formulas, the dance, and the physical objects that the students create may span 3 to 4 weeks.

Briefly describe how you approach the circles project in the various subjects you teach.

We use the idea of circles to help examine our commonly held science beliefs. We examine things like crop circles, the water cycle, and the food chain. We also examine the ways we, and our ancestors, have learned to accept the circle as our frame of reference. From Columbus and other explorers who tested assumptions of the earth’s surface, to the shape of the universe, we see the world through an acceptance of things circular.

Our examination of circles from a mathematical perspective concentrates on formulas, measurement, units, the creation of circles, historic mathematical understandings of circles, and the parts of a circle.

Social Studies
Topics include the social aspects of circles and circular ideas (dance, architecture, defense, the spread of populations and influence). Many human social systems have “circular” processes. For example, government and power changes often go through predictable changes that seem to bring things, at least to some extent, back to a similar place. We talk about how there seem to be cycles in an individual’s life or in the lives of a family. Students look at how they are cared for by responsible adults, and how they, in turn, will be in positions of responsibility as well.

Language Arts
Both individual pieces of literature and the art of literature itself have circular ideas. The art returns to similar themes over the course of years, changing and returning to important human concerns. We also examine the frequent references to circles in poetry, lyrics, and stories.

How long has the circles project been in existence? Has it changed from year to year?

I have been doing the circle project for five years. I began the project as something that I did with my class alone. The dramatic visual product and the pride the students felt in their accomplishment caused first one other sixth-grade teacher and then the others to begin doing the project as well. In the first couple of years of the study there was no connection made to movement. Then, after conversations with our dance teacher, the connections were informal, with students looking separately at circles in both dance and in the regular classroom. That connection has grown more formal and purposeful until this past year when the two were tied together very closely, with the students using the circles they created in dance class.

When the students made the circles, did they measure them out or were they given the bases pre-cut? How did they scale up or down the objects they represented?

At various times students have cut their own circles or used pre-cut cardboard. Regardless of the form of their cardboard, students are expected to be able to make the translation down in size (for an object like the moon) or up in size (for an object like a coin). Some students need to create formulas so they can change the type of unit of the original object to the units used on the cardboard circle. This can be within a measurement system (miles to inches) or from one system to another (metric to standard). We examine how different measures of a circle (diameter, radius, area, circumference, etc.) are affected by the translation.

Who helped the students with their circle artwork?

Students work on most of their art for their circle projects at home. However, some use school space and materials in after-school programs to complete that work. All students use the concepts from their visual art classes (perspective, shading, contrast, etc.) in the creation of their work. Visual art teachers were included in the assessment of individual pieces of art and in the building of our art assessment expectations.