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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

New book uses dance to teach science to young students

To make a stable structure and learn about balanced force and equal pull, a group of third graders paired up, connected their wrists and leaned back, making an inverted triangle.

Instead of passing out worksheets to elementary students, teachers can, with the help of a new book, use creative movement to introduce scientific topics such as cantilevers and compound machines.

“Today’s child needs to be taught through many more modalities than conceptually—sitting still, hearing someone talk. This (approach) is so dynamic. It’s embedded, embodied learning,” said University of Illinois teaching artist and Department of Dance lecturer Kate Kuper.

Fantastic Forces, published by Heritage Music Press (2016) and written by Kate Kuper and Troy Vogel, teaches music, movement, and science.
Fantastic Forces, published by Heritage Music Press (2016) and written by Kate Kuper and Troy Vogel, teaches music, movement, and science.

Kuper and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Lecturer Troy Vogel recently collaborated on Fantastic Forces: Music, Movement, and Science, a book designed for teachers. Kuper is a national workshop presenter with the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education Program and the creator of several CDs of songs and activities for children. Vogel earned his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the Ohio State University and joined the Illinois Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2011. He teaches the department’s senior capstone course, process safety, and regular contributes to the American Society for Engineering Education.

The two connected at a “Writing Across the Curriculum” conference at the University of Illinois a few years ago. As a teaching artist, Kuper visits schools and creates dances that relate to content the students are learning, such as the Underground Railroad or types of clouds. As a graduate student, Vogel taught science to third and fourth graders as part of a National Science Foundation GK-12 fellowship, and as a lecturer he is involved in department outreach programs.

“We had a lot of fun working together—each learning quite a bit about each other’s expertise,” Vogel said.

Both decided that any activities in the book should be done without expensive or elaborate props or requirements. Kuper taught the activities outlined in the book in Champaign-Urbana elementary schools in five-day residencies, giving her many opportunities to refine the material’s content and age-appropriateness. Vogel reviewed the scientific material and wrote the “Science Corners,” which provide additional information about topics covered in the book, such as wedges and the three classes of levers.

“The goal for the science corners is so that the teacher has a deeper understanding and a broader platform from which she or he can teach,” Kuper said. “In my experience, many elementary school teachers may have only taken one or two science classes in college. This helps give them just a bit more confidence to address a range of student ability,” Vogel said.

The book, published by Heritage Music Press (2016), also offers downloadable journal pages, which encourage students to write or draw about their experience about the topics covered. The journal pages “reinforce scientific concepts, but also give students the creativity to draw and create simple machines or other things,” Vogel said.

The audience for the book is envisioned to include music teachers, physical education teachers, and elementary school classroom teachers. The booklet includes step-by-step lessons, a 2.5 hour DVD of demonstration teaching, and a CD of songs (such as the Wheel and Axle song and the Lever Dance) including data files with ready-made concept posters, lyrics and movement guides, and reproducible images.

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