Whether it was by using rap to help students memorize chemistry concepts or songwriting to help students understand character analysis, chemistry teacher Tonia Berman and Sylvia James, an English teacher, found a way to incorporate music into their classes at San Diego High School of International Studies.
“We found that once we began to balance both the creativity and the academics, that their academics became more important to them,” James says.
The enthusiasm Berman and James have for music education is one shared by many educators. March is Music in Our Schools Month, an annual event sponsored by the National Association for Music Education that aims to promote formal music education for all students.
The event’s goal is to promote formal, continuous music education, such as learning to play an instrument, which has a variety of academic and social benefits for students, according to the group’s website. Music integration in subjects like math and English, when used as a supplement to formal music education, can have wonderful results, says Christopher Woodside, assistant executive director for advocacy at the association.
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For some teachers, says Susan Riley, a Maryland-based arts integration specialist and former music teacher, finding ways to integrate music into core curriculum may be intimidating. Adding music to another subject helps students focus and engage more in the classroom, she says. Riley recommends the following ideas as starting points for incorporating music into other subjects.
• Science: Music production can be used to teach engineering concepts, Riley says. Students can experiment with creating their own music using free programs such as Garage Band for Mac and Audacity for Windows.
Teachers could also expose students to different kinds of audio, such as a live recording versus audio recorded in a studio, and then pepper them with questions about the quality of the sound and how they would create that sound themselves. This can encourage students to use the problem-solving and critical thinking skills necessary for engineering.
“So often in high school there’s this stereotype that we’re listening to classical music or we’re not listening to anything relevant, or that you’re singing in a choir and it’s very stiff,” says Riley, who is also the founder of Education Closet, a Web resource for professional development for integrated and innovative teaching. “This really makes it much more applicable to their life.”
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• English: Rap can help students understand historical poetry. Students can read a passage from a poem like “Beowulf” or “The Odyssey” and teachers can lead students in a discussion about how poetry relates to songwriting. Then students can engage in a rap battle to decipher the piece.
These texts can be difficult for students to get through and understand, Riley says, but improvisational rap can help students discuss the text and figure out things like who’s the hero and what act he is engaged in, while using a musical element.
• Math: Math and music teachers can work together on a project that allows students to practice skills they’ve learned in both courses. Students can take a piece of music they studied in music class – along with what they’ve learned about notes and rhythm – to write a similar piece of music in math class.
Using various note combinations to create a piece in the same time signature as the original is a way students can practice skills that are part of the algebra Common Core standards.
When in doubt, both Riley and Woodside recommend consulting with the music teacher as the best place to start.
Kristen Rencher Nuss, Social Media and Online Community Engagement Coordinator. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)