Conte Community School students move through math with Jacob's Pillow

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Photo Gallery | Conte students learn math through dance w/ Jacob's Pillow

PITTSFIELD >> A Jacob's Pillow dance program has been helping students find a formula for figuring out fractions.

Over an eight-day period this month, 42 third-graders and their teachers at Conte Community School worked with Jacob's Pillow artist-educator Kimberli Boyd to explore through movement fraction-based mathematical concepts.

On Friday, their work culminated in an informal in-school performance of their work against a backdrop of dozens of posters they created to explain fractions.

Conte math coach Marianne Hoebel said the school is working on new approaches to teaching and learning fractions, as mapped out by the new Common Core Standards.

She said generally, fractions are a challenging new concept for youngsters to learn.

"Until they start to see the pieces come together, it's not a whole number to them," Hoebel said.

So Boyd, Hoebel and teachers Kalei Sullivan, Ryann Kennedy and Liz Coscia, came up with plans, drew out concepts and created choreography to help students put the parts together with the whole.

"They've served as creative problem-solvers," said Principal Kerry Light of the program, noting that in addition to math, the program has also promoted teamwork and a sense of community across the classes.

"It's fun with the movement," said third-grader Taliyah Ellis Scott.

She and her classmates presented dances like "Dividing Body Parts," "Jumping Fracs," "Dance of the Numerators & Denominators," "Number Line Dance" and "Whole Group Dances."

The movements involved leaps, lunges, even cartwheels.

Third-grader Crystal Ortiz Styles said they learned how four quarter-turns amount to a full single rotation, and how dancers like to keep rhythm using counts of eight.

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They also practiced a B.E.S.T. warm-up, which teaches students to be mindful of "body, energy, space and time."

"We have had a really incredible learning experience," Boyd said.

She shared with students and guests on Friday her own experiences with math as a child. "It made my stomach ache," she said.

She said being a dancer, and now an educator, has since helped her learn to appreciate and celebrate mathematics through movement.

Boyd's residency at Conte Community School is part of Jacob's Pillow's "Curriculum in Motion" program.

Jacob's Pillow director of education J.R. Glover said that the dance festival and the school have been partners for the past 17 years. She said Curriculum in Motion is also implemented at Becket Washington School, and at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington.

Math coach Marianne Hoebel said she believes the program will have a long-term impact on the students and their progress.

"We're going to take a lot of the work we've seen here and bring it to the lower grades," she said.

In February, the school plans to re-assess the students' knowledge of fractions to see how much they retained from the fall program.

Hoebel said she's confident the students will do well.

Third-grader Lenia Watford said learning and remembering fractions "is a little bit challenging" and sometimes "really difficult." But, she said, she was proud of herself and her classmates for taking the fraction dances on.

"They did really good at doing their best," Watford said.

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239


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