Can dance be used to invite K-12 students into the study of physics if they might not have been willing to study the subject otherwise?
Teachers from Bay and Walton Counties who teach at levels from first grade to high school are ready to find out after spending Friday evening and Saturday (June 21-22) at a workshop on the Physics of Dance at Florida State University’s Panama City campus.
The workshop was led by two professors who teach a course on the physics of dance to students at Santa Clara University – David Popalisky of the Department of Theater and Dance and Richard Barber of the Department of Physics. Their course was described in a 2008 article in Physics World. (The article can be read on the Santa Clara University Scholar Commons here.)
Workshop participants danced, and then used several measurement techniques to analyze forces and the rotational and linear motion involved in dancing. The participants used PASCO force plates, motion sensors and goniometers. In addition, some of the dance movements were video recorded and analyzed using software that allows measurements on a frame-by-frame basis.
The same grant from the office of FSU President John Thrasher that covered expenses for the workshop also purchased the PASCO equipment used in the workshop. The equipment will be kept in FSU-PC’s “STEM Closet” for loan to teachers who participated in the workshop.
The efforts of the participating teachers to bring the physics of dance to their students will be coordinated by Bozeman School Physics and Chemistry teacher Denise Newsome, who was herself a dancer in Panama City before going to FSU’s Tallahassee campus to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Denise’s own dance teacher, Bobbie Massey, brought two of her present students to the workshop on Saturday afternoon.
The fields of engineering, physics and computer science continue to struggle to attract women to their fields. In each field, only about 20% of those earning bachelors’ degrees are women. During a discussion on Friday evening, the workshop participants – all but one of whom were women – wondered out loud whether using dance to invite students into the study of physics might result in more girls taking the subject in middle and high school. Students who take physics in high school are much better prepared to succeed in engineering, physics and computer science in college.