Math and Music: The Power of Music in the Classroom

Everyone knows how powerful music can be. It inspires, sparks emotions and brings back memories. Inside the classroom music can be as part of a powerful learning process. Though there are obvious connections with music and math, songs can be deliberately used in the classroom to shape learning.
Inside a typical 'old school' class students are in an environment that can generously be called "uncomfortable". They sit in desks that have hard seats and little back support. With one window to allow natural light in, the rest of the class is often filled with artificial light that is bright and harsh accompanied by that annoying hum of electricity. The room itself is nothing more than a giant box with a door and window. It's almost as if classroom were designed as a place to train young minds to be good factory workers. John Taylor Gatto explains this very well in his book "The Underground History of American Education".
Having this type of environment is difficult to feel secure or relaxed in as it is far removed from the typical home environment. It's hard to feel loved when you are asked to spend most of your day in a chair not talking. It's almost like children are on an extended timeout. It's hard to feel comfortable when you are sitting on a hard seat for hours. It's almost as if you have been benched for the season. It's hard to be creative when to be creative with story telling or art when the view of the walls doesn't change for weeks. It's as if you have been asked to imagine colorful, exciting pictures while staring at hospital walls.
We are meant to use our senses. Great memories come back when our senses are triggered. The smell of fresh baked bread may bring back memories of a loving grandmother or the smell of chlorine may remind you of summer days at the pool. The feel of a sweater may bring back memories of a long past relative. A familiar face may trigger memories of your glory days when you played together on the field. A song can bring back these memories as well, often ones that make us smile.
For children we can try to create good memories at school. First we can make the classroom more like a learning center and less like cubicle. Image plants brought in to make it feel more natural. Imagine fresh fruit or flower on the teacher's desk that make the room feel alive. A reading couch and chairs can be set up in the corner for quiet reading time. For a writing unit on 'Pioneer Times' things like an old cowboy hat, animal bones or a jar of preserves can be brought in. This will all help to change the feel of the classroom and in turn the feeling each student will have about math or language class.
Our sense of sound is very powerful. Classical songs can be played quietly while students are reading. Dance music can be played while students are in the gym playing soccer. The radio can be playing while students are working on water color paintings in art class. Music can be part of the daily routines in an elementary school.
Music has many benefits that can be subtle or obvious depending on how they are used. The right music can change the mood of a class, bringing a positive, uplifting feel. It reduces the need to talk to fill the awkward silence acting as 'white noise' while students are working. It can also give students a sense of time. Doing math problems would be a perfect example of when to use music for this.


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