EDUCATING WITH MUSIC: Featured Examples


This page features novel, successful, interesting and funny examples of using songs for teaching science and math.
NIMBios Songwriter Kay Stanton with her band Casper and the Cookies NIMBioS: Songwriter-in-Residence Program
The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), in conjunction with the Univ. of Tennessee's James R. Cox Endowment Fund, has sponsored a Songwriter-in-Residence program to encourage the creation and production of songs involving ideas of modern biology and the lives of scientists who pursue research in biology. Songwriters-in-Residence were chosen based on their ability and experience to compose, produce, and perform live songs; their interest in making connections in music between general audiences and science; and their experience touring. During the 2010-2011 academic year, NIMBioS supported four residents, including Kay Stanton (May 2011), Timothy Sellers (April 2011), Jay Clark (January 2011) and RB Morris (November 2010). Baba Brinkman's residency is scheduled for April/May of 2012. To listen and read more, go to http://www.nimbios.org/songwriter and or check out the SAS&M interviews with Clark, Morris, Sellers, and Stanton.
figure from Downeaster Alexa assignment Compilation of Science Song Lesson Plans and Rubrics
Downeaster Alexa: a fishery story (high school level; from Rosanne Fortner of Ohio State)
Marrying the muse and the thinker: poetry as scientific writing (Nanette I. Marcum-Dietrich, Eileen Byrne, and Brenda O'Hern, Science Activities 45(4): 14-17, 2009)
"Science Fair" lesson plans (high school level; based on song by Trout Fishing in America)
Science rocks! A performance assessment for earth science (Melia Waters and William Straits, Science Activities 45(1): 23-28, 2008)
Student songwriting about transpiration (undergraduate level; from Wendy Silk of UC-Davis)
Donna Governor Donna Governor: A Science Songs Dissertation
Donna Governor, a Georgia middle school science teacher with a background in early childhood education, has completed a Ph.D. dissertation titled, Teaching and learning science through song: exploring the experiences of students and teachers. It concluded, "The results of this study indicated that teachers used content-rich music to enhance student understanding of concepts in science by developing content-based vocabulary, providing students with alternative examples and explanations of concepts, and as a sense-making experience to help build conceptual understanding. These students overwhelmingly found that their teachers' use of science-content songs engaged them by providing both situational and personal interest, and as a mnemonic device for remembering key concepts in science. The use of songs has relevance from a constructivist approach as they were used to help students build meaning; from a socio-cultural perspective in terms of student engagement; and from a cognitive viewpoint in that in these cases they helped students make connections in learning."
Kevin Ahern and collaborators Kevin Ahern: Biochemistry Songs Galore
Kevin Ahern is a Senior Instructor at Oregon State University. His teaching tools include a large collection of song parodies that are available at his "Wildly Popular Metabolic Melodies" page. Besides using these songs in his own classes, he has published many of them in the journal Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. A recent profile in the HHMI Bulletin offers additional information on how he gets his ideas for songs and how students react to them.
Walter Smith serenades a class Walter Smith: PhysicsSongs.org
Around the time that Greg Crowther was creating his online database of science and math songs, Walter Smith, a physics professor at Haverford College, was launching a similar database focused on physics songs. Smith claims that his PhysicsSongs.org is "the world's premiere website devoted to collecting and organizing all songs about physics," and considering the wealth of physics history captured by the site, we won't argue the point. PhysicsSongs.org also offers brief thoughts on "Why physics songs?" and "Ways to use songs in courses."
Students of Wendy Silk perform an original song Wendy Silk: Facitating Student Songwriting
In Science And Society (SAS) 42 at the University of California, Davis, the students don't just learn about science, they sing about it. Prof. Wendy Silk's course on "Earth, Water, Science and Song" offers traditional environmental science lectures, but there are no labs. Instead, students have "studio" sessions each week in which they synthesize their understanding of the material by writing and performing original songs about it. The 2010 edition of the class and one of its end-of-quarter performances were featured in an article in the UC-Davis student newspaper. Examples of songs from the class can be seen and heard on the class's YouTube channel (HearUBEST). Also available are a detailed description of the 2010 course (PDF file) and an online teaching module on transpiration with music.
Carl Winter Carl Winter: Food Safety Music
A recent project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and led by Dr. Carl Winter explored the potential of music to improve understanding and retention of food safety concepts by various groups. The project included the creation of animated music videos, which may be viewed online at foodsafe.ucdavis.edu, and the incorporation of songs or videos into various curricula for foodservice managers, culinary arts students, and family/consumer science students. While responses to the music and videos varied considerably among audiences, progress was made in identifying the circumstances under which music is most effective as a curricular supplement. The results of this research are summarized in publications by S.M. McCurdy et al. ("Incorporation of music in a food service food safety curriculum for high school students," Food Protection Trends 28: 107-114, 2008) and C.K. Winter et al. ("Food safety education using music parodies," Journal of Food Science Education 8: 62-67, 2009).