Melodious Numbers: Music-Based Math Learning
If your students struggle with math—or don’t like it very much—singing (and some dancing) might cure their distress. Music is a bonafide learning medium that helps students grasp and remember information and, it turns out, successfully imparts mathematical thinking.
That’s what the innovative, federally-funded, award-winning Muzology does, explained CEO and founder, Dr. Lana Israel; math educators Gary Petko and Shirley Forehand; and season 12 winner of The Voice, Chris Blue, in a recent edLeader Panel. The digital platform uses music videos to teach pre-algebra to students in grades five through nine.
A Combination of Neuroscience, Pedagogy, and Talent
Dr. Israel said that music and math together make for mathematical success in school. After all, if students can remember lyrics to songs they listen to, they can remember math concepts if presented in a musical format.
It makes sense—hearing a hip-hop version of the Cartesian plane surely beats traditional rote memorization.
Dr. Israel explained that music directly activates four brain regions critical for successful learning: attention, motivation, memory and emotion. The academically sound Muzology platform is designed to “light up the brain,” emphasized Dr. Israel with video components that create motion graphics grounded on cognitive psychology and perceptual theory. The graphics strategically chunk and display information to strengthen student comprehension.
Challenges—gamified quizzes—are actually “assessments” (but students don’t know that!) with three levels for each math topic (basic, proficient, and advanced). Questions become progressively more difficult as students advance. Students receive badges (silver, gold, blue, or platinum records, naturally) as they level up. Teachers use a dashboard to track students’ growth and progress.
And then there’s the talent, Grammy Award-winning songwriters and producers who create catchy “mathematical” melodies that singers perform along with choreographed dance moves.
The combination of factors, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Israel, “supercharges learning” and grows students’ engagement with and appreciation for a range of standards-aligned math procedures and skills: fractions, long division, positive and negative numbers, graphing numbers and other pre-algebraic concepts.
“We’ve seen students who had never had academic success in the context of math before,” said Dr. Israel. “Middle or high school students who have programmed themselves to say, ‘I’m bad at math,’ and it’s a losing battle for the teacher once the students are checked out.”
But the math music video is exciting. And suddenly, emphasized Israel, students who were “bad at math” scored high on the platform assessments. They surprise themselves.
What Teachers Appreciate
Teachers can be a hard sell when schools or districts pitch new edtech tools. But Muzology gives teachers what they want. It’s research based, proven effective in the classroom and provides product support to navigate the digital platform.
For Forehand, Math Department Chair at Hall STEAM Magnet High School (AR), Muzology is the ultimate math motivator. As one of a team of educators who piloted the Arkansas program, she sees the platform’s impact year after year.
The excitement starts when the students come into the classroom: The videos are playing, the students are dancing, and they’re immediately drawn into the lesson they will study on a given day. Forehand’s students love the challenges that sometimes evolve into friendly competitions around scores.
She uses Muzology in various ways depending on the size of her classes. Sometimes, it’s built into rotating learning stations to engage students’ prior knowledge or as a response to intervention. Sometimes, the program is part of small-group rotations with playlists for individualized learning. Forehand might review a math concept, like one-step equations, and then play a Muzology video to introduce two-step equations.
She’s engaged students in Muzology-inspired projects. This year, they created math songs (except for the student who wrote a song to prep for a biology vocabulary exam!). Students didn’t just get math grades for the project —there was an English grade on their lyrics and a history grade because students had to research genres and periods of music to write their songs.
No matter how you use Muzology, explained Forehand, students’ depth of knowledge and understanding of mathematics increases because they are not passively learning, moving beyond the typical worksheet and manipulatives for rich, interactive engagement that brings life to math.
Arkansas expanded the Little Rock pilot to 1,200 students in 18 schools and eight districts based on promising outcomes. Average in-platform pre-test scores improved from 50% (before watching a math music video) to 80% on the post test.
An Administrator’s Perspective
Petko, Mathematics Supervisor, Knox County Schools (TN), said teachers who use Muzology are sold on its value. As an adaptable platform, it allows them to structure the program to work best for students in their classrooms.
Many teachers use Muzology across the district’s elementary and middle schools in different ways, like engaging students in the “fun” of music in magnet school arts or using it as an intervention tool. Teachers have used the platform for flipped learning followed by in-class, teacher-led practice. During the pandemic, shared Petko, Muzology was an online go-to for students. Parents also appreciate the tool—it takes away the pressure of homework help and sometimes teaches them new approaches to math.
Petko also brings the Muzology team into math-centered district teacher learning days three times to introduce the platform and invite teachers to practice using it. Teachers also hear from peers who have used it in their classrooms.
The program’s impact influences teacher buy-in: In Knoxville in 2017, district pre- and post-test diagnostics administered to 200+ outgoing eighth graders, 20% of students increased their math performance by more than 40 points after using music-based learning. Before the intervention, 1% of students passed the pre-test diagnostic. After music-based learning, 11% of students passed the diagnostic.
Using Muzology in the classroom makes math teaching and learning look different. One day, you’ll ask your students to explain integers. They’ll probably ask you to “hum a few bars” before giving you an answer.
This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Muzology.
About the Presenters
Dr. Lana Israel
Dr. Lana Israel is a globally recognized learning expert who founded her first company, Brain Power for Kids, Inc., and wrote her first book on learning at age 13. This launched Dr. Israel’s career, while a teenager, as an international speaker. During this time, Dr. Israel authored multiple books on educational interventions, consulted with school systems, and produced award-winning multimedia educational content. She has been recognized with numerous awards including the Nobel Prize Visit Award and the British Brain Trust’s Brain of the Year award for her contributions to global education. After completing her doctoral work, Dr. Israel gained two decades of business, strategic, and production-side experience in the music industry, working with some of today’s biggest artists, songwriters, and producers. Integrating her lifelong passions for music and memory, Dr. Israel founded Muzology, a digital music-based learning company. Dr. Israel is a Harvard- and Oxford-educated Rhodes Scholar whose scientific research on memory has been cited over 800 times.
As a Knoxville native and a product of Knox County Schools, Gary Petko earned a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Tennessee and an M.S. in supervision and administration from Lincoln Memorial University. Gary is a United States Army Veteran and served in Operation Desert Storm. Gary was a classroom teacher for 14 years at Knoxville West High School and served as a numeracy coach for the school district. He is currently in his 13th year as the pre-K mathematics supervisor for Knox County Schools. Gary was a member of the Tennessee Mathematics Leadership Council and assisted in writing the K-12 Tennessee Math Standards. His work has always focused on growing students and improving mathematics education, and he believes that teamwork and commitment to students, teachers, and the community will ensure a culture of excellence and inclusion.
Shirley Forehand has been a mathematics educator for 26 years, 15 of those in middle school math and 11 in high school math. She holds a bachelors’ degree in education and psychology and has completed 30 graduate hours in education. Shirley earned a secondary certificate for 7th – 12th grade and has taught pre-algebra through algebra II. She is actively involved in The Academies at Hall STEAM Magnet High School, a program that provides students a rigorous, 21st century education that will prepare students for college or career once they graduate. Having taught in one of the most economically disadvantaged urban schools in Little Rock, AR, Shirley believes strongly in inclusivity and that all students have the ability to reach their full potential regardless of race, gender, or socio-economic background.
Chris Blue emerged as the Season 12 victor of The Voice on Team Alicia Keys. He captured the hearts of millions with his raw vocal talent, heartfelt honesty, and brave vulnerability. His rendition of Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” and “Take Me To The King” proved showstopping, while a duet with Keys on “Diamonds and Pearls” brought the house down. Keys shared some invaluable wisdom with her team member. “Alicia looked at me and said, ‘Make sure you focus on being in the moment. Don’t try to do anything; BE IT. We’re human ‘beings’ not ‘do-ings.’” That stuck with Chris. “Now, when I get out there, I lose myself in that moment.” Following his victory, Chris inked a deal with Republic Records and entered the studio to work on his forthcoming full-length debut. Drawing on diverse influences, he artfully unites Motown, pop, and soul into a sound of his own. “The energy you feel, the message you hear, and the light you see comes from my faith regardless of the genre.” That honesty builds a lasting connection for Chris. “I want to give the world hope. I want people to walk away with hope in their relationships, their loved ones, and themselves. I want them to be inspired.”
About the Moderator
Tom Whitby is a lifelong educator, having spent over 34 years teaching in the K-12 classroom and over six years in higher education. In addition to being a co-founder of #Edchat (one of the first education-specific Twitter chats, now on its 13th year! Every Tuesday night at 7pm ET), he is an author (The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning and The Educator’s Guide to Creating Connections, both by Corwin Publishing); a blogger (My Island View); and the host of #Edchat Radio for the Bam Radio Network. He also maintains multiple online groups including The Educators PLN on Ning and several LinkedIn Groups (Technology-Using Professors, Twitter-Using Educators, Educational Bloggers, Ning-Using Educators, NYSCATE Network, and Levittown, NY, Connections).
Join the Community
Building Understanding in Mathematics is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net that provides a platform, advice and support in helping educators learn methods that help students build understanding in mathematics.
Muzology is a leading, nationally recognized, learning company dedicated to enhancing performance through the power of music. Founded by memory expert, Dr. Lana Israel, and Bob Doyle, longtime manager of Garth Brooks, Muzology’s high-engagement, evidence-based digital platform is the only math intervention developed by cognitive psychologists, learning experts and hit songwriters. Muzology accelerates learning recovery and makes learning math fast, fun and effective for ALL students.
The summary of this presentation was written by Michele Israel.
Michele Israel writes about the ideas and best practices that are shared in edWeb’s edWebinars so they can spread innovative and best practices to the education community. Michele owns Michele Israel Consulting, LLC, which serves large and small educational, non-profit, media, corporate, eLearning, and blended learning organizations to bolster products and programs. Her rich career spans over 25 years of successfully developing educational materials and resources, designing and facilitating training, generating communication materials and grant proposals, and assisting in organizational and program development. In addition to lesson plans and other teacher resources, Michele’s portfolio includes published articles covering a range of educational and business topics.