Clap for math

COSTA MESA — One hundred students crowded on stage at Paularino Elementary School on Friday morning to practice for an upcoming musical performance for their parents.

The first- and second-graders free-styled as the rehearsal came to a close, improvising a series of notes, counting and clapping the rhythm to the music.

They took turns at the front of the stage, pounding out beats on maracas, tambourines and a hand drum.

In math class the day before, the students had learned about each note's rhythmic value and how to put notes together into a measure.

"It helps us add up to four in all these different ways," said Addie Stendal, a second-grader at Woodland Elementary School.

While most students in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District were off school this week for the Presidents' Recess, these 100 students were busy learning math, science, art and music through the Renaissance program at Paularino.

The pilot program was open to all district students on a first-come, first-serve basis, said Bonnie Swann, the district's executive director of elementary education.

Only 100 spots were open. Another 150 students were put on a waiting list, she said.

The students were broken up into four groups, which rotated among an equal number of lessons lasting 40 minutes each, said program principal Guy Erskine, the lead math and science coach in the district's leadership program.

The program was the brainchild of Erskine and the district's music specialist, Scott Fitzpatrick, who brainstormed about two years ago.

The two wanted to build a cross-disciplinary program on the foundation that arts and science support each other, Erskine said.

Fitzpatrick said they also wanted to encourage hands-on creative thinking.

The cornerstone of the program was bringing together the four disciplines, Erskine said.

The math teacher used musical notes to reinforce his lesson and the science teacher taught about water and clouds to accompany the art lesson on surfing.

Using music helped reinforce what they were learning in math, the students would see the notes on paper, on the whiteboard as well as clap out the notes, said the math teacher James Christman, a kindergarten teacher at Davis Magnet School.

"Any time you can work in cross-curriculum, it will build a more solid understanding," he said.

Getting the chance to be creative has been really fun, said Morgan Lamond, a first-grader at Woodland.

The 6-year-old said she has loved doing the art projects, especially one where the students painted a surfer.

"I did it really crazy," she said. "I added white, yellow and blue, and made this crazy green color."

For Addie, the highlight was music and math, especially learning about notes.

Writing their own songs was "so fun" and helped them add by four, eight and 12, she said.

The program was free to the students, but Erskine wasn't sure that the program could be brought back next year.

He wants to get feedback from the teachers and parents next week before deciding what to do with Renaissance.

So far, the program has fostered collaboration between the four teachers and instilled a better understanding of how their subjects are inter-connected, he said.

The students have also had so much fun they didn't realize they were learning, he said.

"I feel sad that today's the ending," Addie said. "I wish it wouldn't end for 12 more months. I love this place."

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