The body in movement, the body electric

What do fifth- and sixth-graders know about electricity?

For starters:

• It needs a complete circuit for the energy to flow.

• If you break the current, the electricity stops.

• You need to have a conductor connected to what you want to power.

• You need a power source.

• Your battery has to work.

Translating that knowledge into dance movements was an opportunity for the students to express their understanding through movement under the guidance of Alison Marshall. A teaching and performing artist, choreographer and arts consultant, Marshall is at West Homer Elementary School for a two-week residency through Bunnell Art Center’s Artist in Schools Program.

“Electrons and protons are a very difficult concept for students at this age to comprehend,” said Katharine Bynagle, fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at WHES. “How do we get students to understand something they cannot see? The movement component of the lesson was very beneficial to making this happen.”

After Marshall directed the students to “respectfully jumble” themselves to have room for comfortable and safe movement, she began the music and the energy in the room began to flow as students became electricity personified.

They moved and stopped at her direction, expressing suggestions she gave. Their movements depicted low, medium and high voltage. Singularly and in groups of twos, threes and fours, they became solar power; wind generators; and hydroelectricity, complete with flowing water and spinning turbines.

Their movements reflected current decreasing as it moved away from its origin and intensifying as it neared its source.

Adapting lessons in movement to fit topics taught in WHES classrooms, electricity being one of them, Marshall began working with the school’s third- through sixth-graders Oct. 28 and will wrap up the dance residency with a performance at 12:15 p.m. Nov. 8.

“Dance is a physical art form which expresses thought and feeling in movement,” said Marshall. “Movement was our first language and we all continue to speak it.”

Marshall is on the national dance faculty at Lesley University, College of Creative Arts. She has served as faculty in dance and education at Arizona State University West, the University of Washington, Prescott College and the Project Zero Summer Institute, Harvard Graduate School of Education. She designs and presents dance and theatre-based learning programs for schools and communities. 

Through a master’s of education degree program in integrated arts, WHES speech and language therapist Judy Gonsalves had an opportunity to meet and study with Marshall.

“I was really impressed with her knowledge, her enthusiastic style and her emphasis on connecting dance and creative movement with content-curriculum when I was a student of hers, so I thought she would make a fantastic artist-in-residence at my school,” said Gonsalves.    

Bunnell’s Artist in Schools Program provided the link to bring Marshall and WHES together 

“One of the biggest values of the AIS program for schools is that it exposes all students to the arts, resulting in a nice integration of arts in their learning,” said Gonsalves. 

WHES Principal Ray Marshall, no relation to the artist, considers the school’s students and faculty fortunate to have Marshall’s time.

“Alison Marshall has brought to West Homer a very high-energy movement and dance program that infuses kinetic learning into academic disciplines,” said Ray Marshall. “Students are able to experience differentiated learning opportunities to master traditional academic materials. Additionally, our staff has been afforded the opportunity to learn these strategies and techniques so that we can better meet the needs of our students” 

Following the announcement that Marshall would be working with WHES students, the principal said he was contacted by other schools interested in having teachers observe her teaching so they could learn from her expertise.

Bunnell’s Artist in Schools Program is in its 12th year. 

“We get a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and adhere to some basic standards for excellence within the program and also do reporting on what happens in the program,” said Asia Freeman, Bunnell’s executive and artistic director.

Six residencies are occurring throughout the fall season: Jack Dalton, storytelling at Little Fireweed Academy; Eddie Wood, Latin partner dancing at Homer High School and Homer Middle School; Martin Zeller, improvisational theater at Flex School; Art Koeninger, metalsmithing at Razdolna School; and Marshall at WHES.

It is an opportunity WHES takes advantage of every year.

“Each of these fantastic arts integration learning opportunities accents and supports the learning we offer students,” said Ray Marshall.

“Additionally, each year our artist-in-residency provides staff with professional development so that teachers can continue the efforts of the artist once their time is completed at the school. These annual teacher trainings have greatly deepened our staff’s understanding of how to utilize the discipline of art to deliver, accent and extend the learning opportunities that we offer our students.”

While in Homer, Marshall also will be the keynote speaker at Bunnell’s Teaching Artist Training Academy at the Kachemak Bay Campus, 7 p.m. Nov. 8, and a presenter during the academy, Nov. 9-10.