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Dance & the Environment   

West Newton Elementary

3rd grade classes

Fall 2014

Program Summary
Arts for Learning’s arts & environmental

program welcomed two classes of 3rd graders

to the school year 2014-2015. The Dance & the

Environment residency took place in early

August when they were only on the 3rd and

4th weeks into the school year.  The residency

was implemented over 5 days with 45 minutes

per session aimed at meeting the goals of

teaching concepts dance while leveraging

learning about the students’ role in the care

and preservation of the environment.

The School Partner

West Newton Elementary puts creativity at the

core of their identity. They adopted the

Artful Learning model by Leonard Berstein,

a school improvement model that stimulates

and deepens academic learning through the Arts,

in strategic alignment with providing challenging

opportunities for students to develop 21st century

learning skills. This and the collegial demeanor and

creativity of our school contacts, make for a great

partnership and enriching experience for the



The Creative Team

Teaching artist, choreographer Melli Hoppe 

Third grade classroom teachers: Mrs. Allison

Hite and Ms. Amanda Hofmeister


Guiding Questions

These questions were formulated by the

teaching artist to guide the lessons of the

residency. They are to provoke ideas and

thinking about Environmental Science

through dance.


About the art form:

  1. How can you make a movement abstract?

  2. What is a tableau?

  3. What is a choreographer?


About the environment:

  4. What is the environment?

  5. What are the things you can do to care for the environment?


The Creative & Learning Process

  • Days 1 & 2:

    • The residency started with an introduction to the elements of dance through warm-up exercises, group cooperation exercises that involves shape and levels, and discussions in large and small groups about environmental issues and solutions.

  • Days 3 & 4:

    • This set the foundation for the students to create a dance sequence depicting their environmental actions. In small groups, they worked collaboratively and applied problem solving skills as they brainstormed, planned, choreographed and rehearsed their dance piece.

  • Day 5:

    • The showcase of their dances allowed for critiquing and revision.



What We Learned

Student Learning: The most important impact can be seen in their transformed understanding about dance and choreography.  Based on the students’ responses to the pre and posttests measuring their level of knowledge about dance and the environment, we see an increase in the use of dance vocabulary, understanding of tableau and choreography.  It is inspiring to find out that these two groups of students are well informed about their role in the care of the environment.


  1. How can you make a movement abstract?

  •    Class #1

    • PRE: by walking, walking quietly, walking slowly, no running, speed walking, action word, an actor, stretching, jumping, jumping jacks, skipping, recycling

    • POST: (making it) bigger, sharp, smooth, slow fast, shape, light, heavy strong

  • Class #2

    • PRE: move a lot, dance a lot, exercise, run a lot, ride a bike, jump rope into water

    • POST: shape, levels – low, big in size, sharp & fast, slow & light, through, smooth, strong


   2. What is tableau?

  • Class #1

    • PRE: people get in position, people act out something, they freeze, someone taps on them and they say what they are thinking

    • POST: levels, freeze, shape, get into position, focus

  • Class #2

    • PRE: when you get low and come up, you’re frozen doing something, you are in a pose, you copy something

    • POST: shape, in place, big movement/pose, expression, abstract


   3. What is a choreographer?

  • Class #1

    • PRE: someone who sings & dances, painters, tell people what to do, an artist, a scientist, someone who takes pictures

    • POST: someone who makes up dances

  • Class #2

    • PRE: person who takes pictures, someone who makes videos

    • POST: people who make dances, someone who likes to dance, teach dance, people who are good at dancing


   4. What is the environment?

  • Class #1

    • PRE: the earth, the law, hard wood floors, nature, peoples jobs, the desert, things we see around us, trash, something we know, the president, the sun, the things around us

    • POST: world around us, flowers & trees, grass, ocean, nature, sun, animals

  • Class #2

    • PRE: animas in the forest, pets on earth, garden, pollution, population, habitat, people that help other people, person that works in hospital. Community where you live, people that work at fire stations

    • POST: army men, whole entire earth, community, habitat, trees, water


   5. What are the things you can do to care for the environment?

  • Class #1

    • PRE: wood, help polar bears not be extinct, picking up trash, recycle, plant a tree, stop cutting down trees, help endangered species, making money, help homeless, shut down pollution, planting bushes, helping poor people, don’t pick flowers

    • POST: plant trees, recycle, throw away trash, don’t kill baby fish, don’t waste water, help animals don’t be extinct, do not pollute

  • Class #2

    • PRE: pick up trash, recycle, help people, re-use, donate things you don’t need/want, ride a bike, pick up trash that people throw, don’t’ litter

    • POST: recycle, re-use, donate instead of being wasteful, pick up litter, conserve water, planting trees



Meaningful Student Learning


From Allison, classroom teacher: “It brought learning about environmental issues to life and really reinforced the things we do and talk about in our own classrooms. I think it also opened students’ eyes to “dance” and that it can have many interpretations. Students learned how to work in a group to complete a task they all had ownership in. It was the beginning of the year with new students and I think this was powerful.”


From Melli, teaching artist: “The students were very engaged in the program.  On the first day, many of them did not have a clear idea of what "caring for the environment" meant.  Some chose caring actions (such as donating clothes, giving food to the poor, helping others) but they did not understand the difference between caring for others and caring for the environment. By the end of the residency they had clear ideas of actions they could take to care for the environment.  Most of them also learned how to abstract movement so that it became dance even though they held back a bit when they performed their dances.”



Further Inquiries & Possibilities


  • What would the impact be on the students’ commitment to stewardship if we had guest speakers from various agencies to engage them in a conversation about climate change, consumerism, and the likes?

  • What would the impact be on students’ learning about dance if we engaged them in a service learning project where one of their tools for advocacy is dance?

  • How pronounced would the impact be on student learning if the teaching artist and teachers collaborated to design a semester–long unit on dance and the environment? What would this look like?

  • What difference would this school have in the community if they instituted an environmental policy; one where the Arts is at the core of the policy?

  • How can we learn about global warming through dance?

  • Imagine this dance residency outdoors, so they (students) could learn to look at the environment more deeply and create dances based on an appreciation of nature.


Closing Thought

“Students were introduced to some topics, activities, and vocabulary that we will be using later in the year. We will be learning about balance, tableaus, to name a few, later in our artful learning units. Since we are an artful learning school and students learn through the arts, this was a nice reinforcement activity as well.” – Allison