Making Connections: Transforming MAEIA Assessments into Arts-Integrated Learning Opportunities – 1st Grade Math and Theatre

By Karenanna Boyle Creps

In this series of 4 blog posts, I will share ideas inspired by MAEIA assessments for arts curriculum integration across K-12 school subjects. These arts integration ideas are intended to foster interconnection across school subject areas that could lead to longer-term interdisciplinary collaborations between certified arts educators and certified non-arts educators in schools across the State of Michigan.  Student learning deepens across subject areas with the insight cross-disciplinary teaching and learning can provide. Check out the 3rd Grade English Language Arts and Music and the High School Dance and Life Science blog posts.


Arts Subject Area: Theatre

Grade Level: 1st
MAEIA Assessment:
T.E101: Performing The Bremen Town Musicians with Sounds and Movement

National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) Anchor Standard: TH:Pr4 – Select, analyze and interpret artistic work for presentation.

Non-Arts Subject Area to Integrate: Math

Math Content Standard: Operations and Algebraic Thinking: Represent and Solve Problems Involving Addition and Subtraction: Use addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using objects, drawings, and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.


The MAEIA description of the assessment, Performing The Bremen Town Musicians with Sounds and Movement reads:

Part 1–The teacher will lead students in the activity of “Yes, Let’s,” where the students are instructed to explore and recreate the sounds of various barnyard animals, objects, and people through the use of percussive sounds created with their bodies (e.g., clapping, stomping, snapping) and vocalizations.

Part 2–Students will listen to the teacher read the story of The Bremen Town Musicians, and will fill in appropriate animal, objects, and people sounds when prompted to do so. Before using this story with students, the teacher should practice the pauses and prompts to be used with students so that they are inserted seamlessly into the story.

This two-part assessment provides a great opportunity to bring equations with a symbol for the unknown number to life.  With its collection of multiple characters and a variety of animal sounds, this MAEIA drama assessment allows a drama teacher to collaborate with a math teacher to integrate theatre and math content in ways that enliven mathematical concepts through students’ mastery of the theatre content covered.

The math and theatre teachers should meet prior to the classroom work to discuss meeting objectives and to provide sufficient instructional support that aligns content in both subject areas. In this example, I focus on embedding equations with a symbol to represent an unknown number in a problem through the assessment’s focus on the performance of animal sounds and actions.  The students, themselves, are the symbols of unknown numbers representing math problems.

Aligning with Part 1 of the Assessment

In part one, the class is asked to perform like barnyard animals making sounds and creating movements. Here are some examples for the Bremen Town characters:

  • Donkey braying and eating hay.
  • Dog barking and wagging its tail.
  • Cat meowing and climbing a tree.
  • Rooster singing and scratching the dirt.

Be sure to add other barnyard animals as well. After all students have rehearsed and are confident in creating sounds and actions of barnyard animals, divide the class into smaller groups and assign each group a different barnyard animal.  To create a barnyard and its chaotic soundscape and to solidify student roles, the teacher leads the groups of students in a rehearsal of their animal roles all at once.

To engage in the math objectives of using addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems and demonstrating equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem, the teacher facilitates students into and out of different animal groups. For example, 10 students (representing a variety of animals) come to the front of the room and perform as their barnyard animals. The teacher asks, “How many animals are on the farm at the front of the room?”  Students count and say, “10!” Next the teacher creates a farm (representing a variety of animals) at the back of the room using 8 students. When asked how many, students count and say, “8!”

Then the teacher invites two animals from the farm at the front of the room to come for a visit to the farm at the back of the room. As the two animals are crossing the room, they are instructed to stop in the middle as the teacher asks, “How many animals are leaving the farm?” Students reply, “2.” Then, the teacher asks, “How many animals are still at the farm at the front of the room?”  The symbol that represents the unknown number of remaining animals are the 8 students who remain at the front of the room. Students count and reply, “8!” The teacher writes the equation on the board, 10 – 2 = 8.

Next, the teacher asks again, “How many animals on the farm at the back of the room?” Students again count and reply, “8.” As the donkey and rooster arrive at the farm at the back of the room, the teacher writes the equation on the board, 8 + 2 = 10. With teacher facilitation students can perform multiple variations of this exercise using addition and subtraction up to 20. After some practice, students may also be able to make up their own equations of animals moving between the farms.

Aligning with Part 2 of the Assessment

The second part of the MAIEA assessment involves direct student engagement with the story of The Bremen Town Musicians and its characters. For this integrated approach students will create a scenario of each main character leaving their farm. The teacher facilitates the building of four farms in the classroom, each with a different number of animals and each with a main character from the story. For example:

  • Farm #1 – 6 animals, including a donkey.
  • Farm #2 – 7 animals, including a dog.
  • Farm #3 – 8 animals, including a cat.
  • Farm #4 – 9 animals, including a rooster.


As the storytelling and dramatization begins, students improvise their barnyard sounds and activities. As the story unfolds and the donkey departs the farm, the students must solve the subtraction equation of the one animal leaving that farm. The teacher asks, “After donkey leaves, how many animals are on the farm?” This equation is written on the board. The action of animals leaving their farm is repeated for each of the four farm groups creating four subtraction equations.

As each of the animals in the story depart their farm to join the band, the teacher keeps track of the subtraction equations and also introduces the single grouping addition equation of 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 4. Under the guidance of the math teacher, the students track the increasing number of animals in the band as the story progresses. Ultimately, there are four animal band members reflecting the main characters of the story.

Using story dramatization engages students in learning as they actively become characters in the story. Students often become very committed to their roles and are highly invested in what happens to them in the story. The story of The Bremen Town Musicians, with its farm animal characters, offers opportunities for teachers to go beyond the drama content and apply math equations by way of word problems. Students become the symbols and regard themselves as part of the equations, perhaps leading them to an AHA! moment in the math content. In the end, the students and teachers both stand to benefit from this kind of collaboration, because teachers work to help students learn and grow and students learn and grow better when they are given multiple opportunities to encounter knowledge through multiple disciplines and approaches.


Karenanna Boyle Creps, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. She is the Subject Area Leader of Arts Integration and the Licensure Area Leader for K-12 Visual Arts Education. Her research interests are in arts education, experiential learning, intercultural education abroad, the ethics of education research, and arts-based research methodologies. 

Images provided by: Wallpaper Flare and Vintage Kids’ Books My Kids Love

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