Friday, August 11, 2017

Math Songs to Calm the Amygdala

(cross-posted on

I have been reading Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain and it is fantastic. Lots of nuggets to apply immediately in the classroom, as well as a bigger picture to think about. One of the early gems from the book was about how many cultures are still steeped in oral traditions, and the effect of that is that -- depending on their home culture -- some of our students' brains are primed to learn that way even in the classroom. When we provide instruction primarily through writing, not all students process it at the same rate depending on their home culture's dominant way of passing along information. I was on the plane when I read this particular part of the book, and I thought about how I find myself repeating the same information often to groups of students, instead of resorting to music to help them encode that information. I put the book down and wrote three songs to use with my students next year, that encapsulate some of the basic information that I think everyone should really internalize. I don't think teaching by song is in contradiction to "Nixing the Tricks", because really a song is not able to provide the student with all the things they will need to be able to do. They still need a lot of knowledge and understanding outside of the song to be able to flexibly and accurately execute the skills, but if they can memorize the song, then maybe it will provide them with a starting point to be/feel less helpless when approaching intimidating problems. That's all. It's a way of quieting the amygdala and to encourage students who learn through a different sense, to be more independent.

Here are my songs! I wrote one for linear functions, one for math faux pas's (the mistakes that kids often make in simplifying expressions), and one for solving equations. I am not the most musical person, so they are written to mostly kiddie tunes as I sing kiddie tunes to my baby everyday. My thought is that we would sing them as a class sometimes, and I would give extra credit to students who wouldn't mind performing it in class on some days before the assessment. The idea is really to encourage the kids who struggle with tests to learn the songs by heart before the end of the unit, so that it can serve the purpose of building their confidence before the test. 

What are your thoughts? Do you think they are too procedural still? Do you think that songs can be used in the classroom to complement student understanding, rather than to take away from it?

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