Using theatre as a means to teach mathematical subjects makes class more interesting and enables greater learning for students. Theatrical approaches can be used for other educational subjects too, but as a former student who struggled in trying to understanding mathematical concepts, I can vouch that for some at least theatre is even more beneficial to use in a class all about numbers and problem-solving. For many students, studying math concepts for extended periods of time causes numbers to blur together, especially if they are confused. If I had been taught in a more entertaining, hands-on way using theatrical methods, I probably would have had the mental energy to stay focused, and therefore, certain concepts would not have taken so long for me to grasp. Below I have included some ideas for teachers to use in the classroom that will yield greater benefits than they presently get if they are having the class only work out of the textbook.
Lead Younger Students in “Action Songs” that Focus on Numbers and Counting
When I was on the road with a children’s theatre company back in the day, and I had to direct the 5-7 year old age group, I discovered that when I “sang” choreography instructions, they retained the information better than when I simply stated the instructions to them. Little kids have wild imaginations, and repetition becomes exhausting for them. In order for them to stay focused, they need to be engaged in a game-like activity. Encourage young students to act out song characters and stories. For instance, I knew how to count to the number five at age three because of the song, “Five Little Monkeys.”
Create an Environment of Imagination and Pretend Even in Daily Math Activities.
Always strive to teach in a FUN way no matter what the math concept is, and it will become habitual. For example, personifying numbers will help students retain concepts (and it is already much more interesting than just citing the information). For instance, consider positive and negative integers. When you draw -10 on the board, give that integer a personality. Why is this integer negative? Is it because he’s sad? Perhaps +30 is positive because she won a million dollars! Ask each student in the class to role play the emotion of various integers. Another idea is to have the students in a group form an imaginary bridge by posing as various geometric shapes. Teachers may also shout out commands, such as, “Get in groups of four and create a square with your bodies.” This way, students have a fun opportunity to evaluate their knowledge of geometric shapes.
Theatre Games, Improvisation, and Skits
To successfully enforce the importance of mathematical skills in the real world, and to ensure that students fully comprehend every concept, having the class write their own skit is an innovative tool to achieve these two goals. One entertaining idea is to have the class act out a grocery store check-out scene.
Perhaps lead the class in a warm-up game of the infamous “This is a…” Kids stand in a circle and pass mathematical objects around, such as shapes or flashcards. As they pass an object, they chant the following to the beat and fill in the blank with the answer:
A: This is a ___.
B: A what?
A: A ___.
B: A what?
A: A ___.
B: Oh, a ___.
This is a challenging game because eventually there are many items being passed around the circle simultaneously. When does the exercise break down? How many objects could the class handle when passing them around in the circle? Once you know that number, do the exercise again trying to break the record.
For older students, teachers can run a playwriting and performance activity. Tell them to write a mystery where the audience has to answer a certain number of math riddles and word problems to help the characters discover clues.
Using theatrical activities to teach math will make learning more appealing and enjoyable for students, and at the same time, it will improve their creative thinking and innovation. It can also help introverted and insecure students come out of their shell. Most importantly, it allows students to observe how math relates to the real world.