A 9 year old looks at a picture in her Mathematics book, thinks for a while, and with a sparkle in her eyes excitedly tells her teacher that her father can create a model of the same picture. Encouraging this little one’s enthusiasm, the teacher asks her if her father would be willing to create the model for the school. The parents of these little kids gathered at the school on a weekend and began creating this model – some of them helped clear a piece of land in the school’s backyard, some brought the materials like old car tyres, ropes, paint, wood, and anything else that was needed to build this model. A Syrian family cooked a delicious meal and at the end of the weekend, there it was – an obstacle-course from a Mathematics textbook initiated by the enthusiasm of a child and built because of the encouragement, willingness, and shared responsibility of the school teachers, parents, and community alike.
But what was so special about this obstacle course, and this school at Viksjöfors – a little locality close to the centre of Sweden? The school strives towards different modes of knowledge-creation with a focus on movement. This obstacle course is just one example of play-as-knowledge where students hop through car tyres laid on the ground in different patterns, slide on frost covered ramps and swing on twines to understand concepts of effort, friction, speed, time, and distance.
On my first visit to the school in the August of 2017, Helena Ehrstrand, a teacher at Vikjöfors skola explained with an example their pedagogic system: if the topic of the day is water cycle, the students come into a traditional classroom, the teacher introduces the topic, and explains a few details. The students are then given an option to either continue learning in the classroom, or to learn by moving. Those who choose to move are taken to the dance studio in the adjacent Viksjöforsbaletten – the dance school. A dance teacher then teaches them to dance the movement of water from the ocean as water vapour into the sky, the process of condensation, and eventually precipitation. The students have now learnt to dance the water cycle! The innovation doesn’t stop here; the students are given an option to be evaluated through traditional paper-pen tests, or by dancing their evaluation. This methodology is applied to the entire school curricula, thereby actively engaging different intelligences.
Viksjöforsbaletten was part of an European Union funded education project (2011-2014) called ARTinED that aimed at creating a pedagogic system of integrating the arts in school curriculum, and not merely arts as a separate subject, targeting primary school children. At the time, six schools within EU (Italy, UK, Sweden, Romania, Spain and Turkey) formed the project to integrate creative writing and poetry, music and drama, dance and choreography, and visual arts as methodologies for learning. The project initially aimed at creating lesson plans for environmental education which is available freely for other schools to follow. Viksjöfors skola is a pilot school based on the AETinED methodology. The ARTinED project continued as e-ARTinED funded again by the EU and concludes in August 2018 with a two-day conference to be attended by movement-experts, musicians, educators, and government officials not just from Sweden but from all over Europe.