If you think teaching academics through drama is impossible, you’re not alone. But you may want to reconsider.
As Shakespeare said, all the world’s a stage. Life is drama. In each person’s life, there is a steady flow of character and conflict – i.e. drama.
Arts-integrated education takes advantage of this fact to craft memorable academic lessons utilizing theater and performance. But how do they do this?
Examples of Teaching Academics Through Drama
Theater and drama classes may be viewed as a waste of time by concerned parents who worry for the future of their child. Making a living as an actor is nearly impossible, they think. And to be honest, they’re not all that wrong – though you can apply acting skills in the real world.
But as educators at arts-integrated middle schools and high schools have discovered, drama can also be a brilliant vehicle for teaching cross-curricular subject matter. We’ll take a look at some obvious and not-so-obvious examples here.
Okay. Learning literature through theater is one of the more obvious examples. Taking a poem, short story, or play (duh) and performing it to get a better grasp of the piece is basically a gimme, right?
Well, yeah. But arts-integrated educators take it another step or two. They have students consider how the costumes and the set would be designed for the production. The students are further motivated by how an audience may receive their interpretation of the work.
Then there’s the notion of parody. Taking a heavy or boring piece of literature and satirizing it as a performance requires students to be very familiar with the work. It also puts a lighter twist on the work and gives students a break from what might be considered a weighty tome.
Another playful dramatic device educators may utilize is having students break down an entire novel or other work into a two-minute performance. This requires them to consider the most important parts of the work while also honing their efficiency skills.
History is another obvious subject. After all, history is just rehashing life as it once was. (At least when it’s done correctly.) And as we’ve already established, life is drama.
Any good history lesson is going to be chock full of character and conflict. But while it’s one thing to read about and study the Trail of Tears, for example, it’s another to step into the role of an exiled Native American in the midst of it.
History teachers can use drama and theater to recreate scenes from the period their students are studying. For example, staging a conversation between a Confederate soldier and a Union soldier who were once friends can create a more humanistic understanding of the complexities of the Civil War in the United States.
Similar to the literature lesson above, a history teacher may also ask students to do a spoof on a specific time period to bring some levity to an otherwise dark time.
So here’s where using theater to teach academics gets a little hazier. Or does it? Science is full of drama. It just presents in a more abstract manner. An arts-integrated science teacher must find a way to take what they’re teaching and translate it into character and conflict.
1. Gravitational Pull
For example, the effect of gravitational pull on the orbit of the planets can be demonstrated by taking one student and putting her at the center of the room. Let’s say she is Taylor Swift. Three other students are her fans who want to be near her. One is instructed to be close to her and be still. The second is the farthest away but is moving. The third is also moving, but closer.
The first is drawn to Taylor because s/he is still. They eventually come together. The third, though moving, is close enough that s/he will also be pulled in. The second one, however, is moving and far enough away that s/he is both drawn in while continuing to move – thus causing him/her to orbit around Taylor.
The concept of magnetism can be taught with some sort of flair for drama. Students are divided into a Positive gang and a Negative gang. In this case, though, their differences are what draw them together. It’s the whole opposites attract idea.
All is going well until another Positive gang faction (presumably from across town) shows up to create havoc. The first Positive gang is repulsed by them and they quickly reject one another.
3. Parts of a Cell
To understand how a cell in action works, an arts academy science teacher might ask one student to volunteer to play the role of a virus. Perhaps a common cold or (if it’s not too soon) COVID. Three other students play the cell membrane, the nucleus, and, between the two, the cytoplasm. The rest play the part of antibodies.
How does the pesky viral student penetrate the defenses of the cell? How do the antibodies fight back? And if the virus breaks through, what happens? How does it impact the cell and its parts?
Using drama to educate students on the parts of a cell is certainly more interesting (for most, at least) than reading through a list of parts and memorizing their functions.
Would Your Child Benefit From an Arts-integrated Education?
As you can see, teaching academics through drama (or other art forms) can make any subject more interesting. Especially for students who are struggling with the conventional educational system.
So if you feel your child would thrive in this sort of environment, then contact us today to schedule a tour of our school.
Learning should never be drudgery.