How to Use Music to Boost Student Learning

Amy Nagel is a First Year Teaching Fellow at the Garfield Middle School in Revere, Massachusetts. Prior to the Teaching Fellowship, she was a journalist and a Citizen Teacher! Before I began the Teaching Fellowship, I was extremely nervous about teaching math. I always loved English or reading. When I was told I would be teaching math this year, I was shaking in my rookie teacher boots, but I had given up the luxuries of my cubicle and former career to teach, so I decided to embrace it!

One thing I loved about one of my grad school classes this year was how we were challenged to use song to teach different concepts. This fun idea stuck with me throughout my first few months of teaching, and while I was hesitant to try it at first, it was a hit when I finally did!

During our order of operations unit, my co-worker passed along a YouTube video, which featured a young math teacher rapping with her young students about the order of operations (I affectionately dubbed it “The Pemdas shuffle.”) When I revealed the song in class, it was the most powerful teaching day I had to date. I passed out different signs displaying the words: multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, parentheses, and exponents. Suddenly, I switched on a beat from my iPhone and asked students to roll their hands to the beat with me and hold up their sign when they heard me say that operation. Students smiled and started laughing (this was far from anything they did in school—or math!). The students were so into the song that they didn’t even grab their bags and jump when the bell rang. They were still singing when a  the next class lined up outside, laughing and wondering what was going on inside our math (or music room!) that day.  As students left the room, they were singing the song, and the next day they told me it was stuck in their head all night. The best part? My students never forgot the order of operations and scored very well on their assessment at the end of the unit!

This won’t be the last time I teach math concepts using song. It’s not only entertaining and fun, but it’s an entirely new way to connect with students and inspire them through the power of music.

What ways have you seen music used to inspire student learning?