Music and Math in the News

I have a memory from elementary school of a lesson on music and math that was taught by guest instructors. The instructors had us clap out poly-rhythms, with half the class clapping in two’s while the other half clapped in three’s. We progressed into more challenging sequences, coming to the realization that although the two beats were offset most of the time, periodically we all clapped together. A great lesson on common multiples—and common denominators—and the fact that I still remember that lesson oh-so-many years later is telling.

So I had mixed emotions when I read that a yearlong effort to integrate music and math into some elementary classrooms in San Francisco was successful. Happy, because it sounds like the students loved the lessons and got a richer understanding of fractions through the curriculum. But also exasperated, because in today’s education landscape, “successful” is used synonymously with  “test scores went up.” And that’s all that matters in the current climate of declining budgets and “data-based” decision making. As the article notes,

The results offered insight into how to teach math more effectively, but more than that, gave principals, parents and teachers an academic selling point for keeping music in schools despite budget cuts.

So music isn’t valuable for its own sake, but only as a vehicle for improving math test scores? Really?

Because it’s Friday, and I don’t want to start the weekend with a bummer blog post, I’ll take the positive view. More music in schools? Great. Kids having fun with fractions? Fantastic! And in case anyone needs more ammunition for keeping music in schools, here’s Arjan Khalsa making the case that “math and music are one.” Amazingly, in his five-minute Ignite presentation, Arjan shows fractions in music, contrasts Eastern and Western music, touches briefly on Sikh wedding ceremonies, and illustrates the anatomy behind singing.


About Elizabeth DeCarli

I worked as a high school math teacher for nine years at James Logan High School, a huge (over 4000 students!) public high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was fortunate to start teaching during an exciting time in math education––I had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues on implementing an NSF-funded curriculum, and I worked as a technology coach, helping math teachers integrate Sketchpad and other engaging programs into their teaching. Before teaching, I worked at one of the early educational software companies, Computer Curriculum Corporation. I've been at Key for six years, first as an Editor, and now as the Mathematics Product Manager.
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One Response to Music and Math in the News

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