Under the watchful eye of dance teacher Heather Bybee, students glided across the floor before pulling each other through the air.
The children weren’t focused on their dance form in anticipation of a carefully choreographed performance. Instead, Bybee was explaining how their movements mimicked friction as part of a lesson in the forces of motion.
That’s the goal of the 2014 Summer STEAM Institute, a new summer camp aimed at incorporating science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM. The nonprofit Engaging Creative Minds hosted the weekly camp for students in grades 3-8 at the Charleston County School of the Arts in North Charleston.
The Lowcountry Hall of Science and Math at the College of Charleston developed the curriculum for the camp. Cynthia Hall, director of the Lowcountry Hall of Science and Math, said each week has a different theme, such as climate change and chemical reactions. Artists are given free rein to incorporate the week’s theme into their lessons for music, dance and art, Hall said. Science classes each afternoon tie in the arts activities through more traditional classroom experiments.
“I think it’s been very effective,” Hall said.
Last week, musician Jonathan Gray helped a group of students write a song about static electricity, magnetism and gravity. Students stomped their feet and made a variety of sounds to serve as the backdrop to lyrics explaining each force of motion.
Across the hall, students were drawing cartoon sketches depicting various geologic landscapes.
Camper Brandon Steen, who will be in the fourth grade this fall, liked that he had the freedom to draw his own vision of a geologic landscape.
“There’s no right and no wrongs in art,” he said.
In Bybee’s dance class, Memminger Elementary teacher Dave Bonezzi was impressed with how using dance could engage the students in learning science vocabulary words. Bonezzi, who was assisting Bybee, said he will likely incorporate dance techniques in his second-grade classroom.
“It’s giving them a sensory experience of the vocabulary rather than just an auditory experience,” Bonezzi said. “They keep hearing it over and over in the concept of dance.”
The Summer STEAM Institute is the latest endeavor for Engaging Creative Minds, which partnered with the Charleston County School District in 2013 to help schools teach science, technology, engineering and math through the arts.
The group is currently in 14 schools, and there’s a waiting list of more public and private schools hoping to bring in artists. The group is offering after-school programs in the fall at some Charleston schools served by the nonprofit Charleston Promise Neighborhood.
Robin Berlinsky, executive director for Engaging Creative Minds, said the success of pairing the arts with math and science comes from being able to provide students with a dynamic learning experience.
“Engagement is the key,” she said. “The arts just naturally engage children. When you can teach using the arts you have a fully engaged classroom.”