Local students dancing their way to classroom success
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 13:17

Teacher uses dance show to teach lessons

by Nicole Rodman

    Dundalk Elementary School teacher Stephanie Minderlein has always been a big fan of the ABC television show Dancing with the Stars.
    So, when she heard that some of her fourth-graders were fans of the show as well, she saw an opportunity.
    “I always want to engage my students, and what better way to do it then with something they enjoy,” Minderlein explained.
    Seeing the chance to use the show to bring classroom concepts into the real world, Minderlein dove in headfirst.
    She began with writing assignments, having her students write acrostic and sensory poems about the show’s dance performances.
    From there, her students stretched their skills by writing letters to one of the show’s dancers, Derek Hough.
    The fourth-graders were excited when Hough replied, sending autographed photos to the delighted students.
    It was then that Minderlein looked around and, realizing how engaged her students had become, decided to incorporate Dancing with the Stars into the math curriculum as well.
    As it turned out, the show worked just as well with math topics as it had with writing.
    Over the next few months, Minderlein and her students used the show to study a variety of concepts.
    Minderlein taught her students how to calculate averages by having them watch and then score dance routines from the show.
    Students found the mean, median, mode and range of the scores, then graphed their data on a line graph.
    As the season continued, students continued to score the show’s dances and, using their line graphs, compared their scores to the scores given by the judges on the show.
    Minderlein also used the show to reinforce geometry concepts.

“During the geometry unit we analyzed how angles and transformations are important in ballroom dancing,” she noted.
     Most recently, Minderlein engaged her students in a lesson about perimeter and area by inviting students to design a new ballroom for the show using specific criteria.
    While many teachers have trouble keeping their students awake during math class, Minderlein’s students were eager to learn.
    Minderlein says the results of her Dancing with the Stars-based project speak for themselves.
    “I saw improvements in participation, assessment scores, the ability to talk and use math vocabulary, excitement to write, perseverance, determination, believing in one another and themselves and rising to the high expectations,” she explained.
    By breaking away from the traditional textbook-based classroom format, she was able to make students truly want to learn.
    “Many teachers still teach from the worksheets and textbooks, but going beyond that makes children I feel more successful and know you truly care about them,” she said.
    For their part, Minderlein’s students expressed enthusiasm for the innovative curriculum.
    “I enjoyed making our own dance routines with the geometry transformations because it was like we became members of the show,” fourth-grader Natalie McMillan said. “It helped me really remember the different types of transformations as well.”
    While Minderlein has used Dancing with the Stars to teach writing and math, she has also used the show to demonstrate positive character traits to her students.
    As Minderlein explained, by focusing on dancer Derek Hough during her project, she was able to showcase many of Hough’s positive qualities.
    “I have always been a huge fan of Derek’s because he possesses such amazing qualities as a teacher and person,” Minderlein said. “He is a role model of perseverance, determination and respect. All these qualities I want my students to possess and take with them beyond my classroom.”
    It is a lesson Minderlein’s students have taken to heart.
    “Derek is so amazing because he has taught me to not be afraid to get up and dance just because I am a boy,  how to become a great leader and persevere,” student Jake Morehouse explained.
    For Minderlein’s students, their excitement for the show does not stop at the classroom door.
    “We have dancing competitions at recess, which makes me happy that they are up and moving,” Minderlein noted, adding, “They are having that chance to be kids and enjoy themselves.”
    With a new season of Dancing with the Stars now underway, Minderlein and her students will continue dancing, and learning, for months to come.