Can dance help us invite K-12 students to the study of physics and careers in engineering, the physical sciences and computing? In Bay County, teachers are giving it a try.

David Popalisky of the Santa Clara University Department of Theater and Dance leads participants through leaps at the Physics of Dance teacher workshop held at Florida State University’s Panama City Campus Holley Lecture Hall on Saturday, June 22.
Richard Barber of the Santa Clara University Department of Physics discusses a measurement of the height of a jumping workshop participant at the Physics of Dance teacher workshop.
Richard Barber (left center) and David Popalisky (right center) discuss science and art during their keynote address on Friday evening at the Physics of Dance teacher workshop.

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.

David Popalisky demonstrates a movement for workshop participants to try on Friday evening.
David Popalisky leads workshop participants through a warmup on Saturday morning.
A workshop participant jumps on a PASCO force plate while two other participants watch data from the force plate being recorded on a computer.
Richard Barber explains force and position data to workshop participants.
A student from the Bobbie Massey School of Dance in Panama City dances while workshop participants watch data coming in from the goniometer that the student is wearing.
A student from the Bobbie Massey School of Dance dances in a goniometer while workshop participants watch the data come in.
Workshop participants dance while being recorded for later video analysis.
Richard Barber (left) and David Popalisky (sitting foreground) assist workshop participants with an analysis of a video recording of their dance.
A workshop participant (foreground right) explains the analysis of a video recording of a dance movement in which she participated.
Workshop participants explain the force and motion data on a dance movement their group executed.
The printed program for the workshop.

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