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    Episode 8: Finding “X” in Math & Theatre with Kevin Murphy

The Tutor Portland Podcast is a show where we sit down with Portland locals to talk all things education and the arts.

Finding “X” in Math & in Theatre with Kevin Murphy

In this episode of the Tutor Portland podcast, our host Brian Grant sits down with the multi-faceted educator Kevin Murphy, who brings a fresh perspective on blending theater arts with mathematics through a few novel techniques. Kevin is a Portland-based educator with a rich background in both theater and mathematics, who sheds light on how the two disciplines can reinforce each other or open new academic pathways for students.

In this companion article, you can read up on this podcast episode’s key details, including Kevin’s unique teaching style that integrates theatrical methods with mathematical concepts to create engaging and fully-integrated learning environments. Kevin’s approaches, which we cover in-depth in the episode, exemplify how diverse disciplines can come together to enhance learning experiences, making the classroom more enjoyable for students of all ages.

To hear all the insights from this interview, be sure to listen to the whole episode linked here on Tutor Portland, or check us out over on Spotify to stream or download on your preferred device. 

Kevin’s Educational Philosophy

evin Murphy’s teaching approach is a testament to the power of integrating the arts and the sciences to really drive lessons home. With a background in professional acting and an MFA, Kevin initially engaged with theater as a passion, later weaving this creative expertise into his math tutoring and teaching methods. During the episode, Kevin shares how his move to Portland in 2015 marked a significant shift in his career, as he embraced the city’s welcoming and open environment to further explore the intersection of theater and education, particularly as a math tutor.

Kevin’s philosophy centers around the use of storytelling, plays, and rhythmic rhymes to facilitate the learning of mathematical concepts. This method not only captivates students but also aids in deeper comprehension and retention of complex ideas. He emphasizes the importance of engaging the whole body in learning, explaining that “there’s nothing like getting those lessons, those words, those rhythms in your body and really genuinely incorporating them rather than just getting it in your head.”

There something about moving the brain and the body together that really helps the information (and oxygen) flow. By acting out problems, using gestures to represent mathematical operations, or creating songs about formulas, Kevin makes abstract concepts tangible and memorable. His techniques demonstrate how the arts can transform education, making learning an active and immersive experience that stimulates both intellectual and physical development.

Impact of Kevin’s Teaching in Portland

Since his return to Portland in 2022, Kevin has had a profound impact on the educational community, particularly at a local Waldorf school where he teaches fifth grade. His innovative approach to teaching—integrating theatrical techniques into mathematics—has not only enriched the curriculum but also made learning more accessible and fun for students. One way he teaches new math concepts is to relate them to a social or music context, which helps students realize how much they already consider such calculations in the daily lives. Kevin’s methods break down the barriers that make math feel confusing or intimidating, which aligns well with Portland’s progressive educational landscape, where there is a high value placed on creative and holistic teaching styles.

Kevin’s influence as a local educator extends beyond the math classroom as well. He has actively contributed to community growth by engaging with local theater projects and educational initiatives that support the blending of arts and academics. His work resonates with Portland’s culture of embracing diverse and innovative educational practices, making him a beloved figure among educators, students, and parents alike. Plus, he is a huge advocate for the amazing theater programs available in the Portland area and how they can offer transformative educational experiences to locals from all walks of life.

Exploration of Theatrical Techniques in Education

Kevin Murphy’s approach to teaching mathematics through the arts is both innovative and impactful as it employs a variety of theatrical techniques to make the learning process more engaging, and therefore more approachable and memorable. One of the key strategies he uses is the creation of plays and musicals that incorporate mathematical concepts. By doing so, Kevin enables students to learn math through narrative and performance, allowing them to internalize concepts through their roles, actions, and read or sung lines. For example, he is currently developing a musical where characters use mathematics to solve problems, effectively integrating concepts like algebra into the storyline. Blending the story with the lesson is a helpful tactic for better ingraining knowledge.

Additionally, a Kevin utilizes songs and rhythmic rhymes to methodically increase the retention of learning new mathematical operations. Singing along can make memorizing information a lot easier because it engages multiple senses and areas of the brain, making the experience more memorable. The rhythm and melody of a song create a structured framework that helps our brains retain information better. These techniques are especially beneficial for young learners, as they combine auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles, catering to diverse student needs and preferences. Plus, it’s fun and enjoyable, which means we’re more likely to stick with it and remember what we’ve learned!

Kevin’s Vision for Future Educational Trends

Kevin’s innovative teaching methods reflect his vision for the future of education, particularly within the Portland community. He believes that integrating arts into academic subjects like mathematics can revolutionize the way these subjects are taught and perceived. Kevin envisions a future where educational systems embrace creativity and holistic learning, moving away from rote memorization to a more engaging, inclusive, and effective teaching model.

He also sees the potential for these methods to become more widespread, advocating for a shift in educational paradigms to accommodate diverse learning styles and needs. Kevin’s approach aligns with Portland’s progressive educational scene, which is already open to new ideas and methods. His work encourages other educators to explore and adopt similar strategies, potentially influencing broader educational policies and practices.

For example, Waldorf schools, which prioritize experiential learning and the integration of arts across the curriculum, serve as a testament to the effectiveness of such approaches. These schools emphasize the development of the whole child—intellectually, emotionally, and physically—echoing Kevin’s belief in holistic education. By incorporating similar methodologies, Kevin envisions mainstream schools evolving to provide more balanced and enriching educational experiences.

Kevin also emphasizes the power of the outdoors when it comes to learning, and how Portland is a wonderful place because of its access to amazing natural scenery and its community of people who love to get out and about, rain or shine. Getting outdoors also allows students to see the patterns of mathematics in nature, further integrating academic concepts in engaging ways. Plus, the outdoor environment naturally lifts the mood and leads students to be more receptive to classroom activities as they become more enjoyable.

Resources and Opportunities in Portland

Portland offers a wealth of resources and opportunities for educators, students, and parents interested in exploring theatrical and holistic educational methods. Kevin Murphy is actively involved in several initiatives, including theater camps and educational programs that utilize his teaching techniques. For instance, the Bridge City Theater Camp, which he mentioned during the podcast, provides summer programs where children engage in Shakespearean plays, modern films like “Labyrinth,” and original works such as “The Kids Who Saved Portland.”

For those interested in further exploration, Portland also hosts various workshops, classes, and events focused on integrating arts into education. Platforms like PDX Backstage and local community centers offer resources for budding actors, educators, and students to learn and grow. These opportunities not only enrich the participants’ educational experience but also help cultivate a vibrant, creative community in Portland.

Additionally, Portland’s thriving arts scene is supported by numerous theaters, galleries, and performance spaces, providing ample opportunities for practical experience and professional networking. Major venues like Portland Center Stage at The Armory, Artists Repertory Theatre, and the Keller Auditorium host a diverse array of performances, from Broadway productions to innovative local works​. Smaller theaters, such as the CoHo Theater and Curious Comedy Theater, offer more intimate and experimental performances, fostering a dynamic and inclusive theater community​.

Portland also boasts vibrant galleries such as the Portland Art Museum and Blue Sky Gallery, which showcase both local and international artists, while community events like the Portland Winter Light Festival and the Time-Based Art Festival celebrate the city’s creative spirit year-round​. These resources not only enhance the cultural fabric of Portland but also ensure that future generations have access to diverse and dynamic learning experiences.

Big Takeaway

Kevin Murphy’s innovative approach to integrating theater and mathematics in education showcases the transformative power of interdisciplinary methods. His work in Portland highlights how combining creativity with academic rigor can make learning more engaging and effective. As the city continues to support progressive educational practices, Kevin’s techniques offer valuable insights for educators, parents, and students alike.

We encourage the Portland community to explore the array of local resources available, such as theater camps and workshops, to see how the arts can enhance traditional education. By embracing these creative methods, we can inspire students and enrich their learning experiences, fostering a generation that is both knowledgeable and imaginative.

If you want to reach Kevin or learn more, be sure to visit him at the website https://bridgecitytheatrecamp.com or by email at connect@bridgecitytheatrecamp.com or mr.kevin@shiningstarschool.com to connect.