Sing Along Science

Warren G. Phillips Brain-based teaching strategies

Teaching a Lesson that Students NEVER Forget! Using music in the classroom.

Students having fun singing and proudly displaying their Periodic Table quilt and element t-shirts

Students having fun singing and proudly displaying their Periodic Table quilt and element t-shirts

Recently, I had one of my workshop participants ask about how and when to use music in the classroom. These workshops are called ”Science Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites”, and they provide 20 teaching strategies and activities for each strategy. One of these strategies is music.

I have written a song for each science unit that I teach. I call them Sing Along Science. These songs use science vocabulary to teach a topic. I chose to put the words to familiar tunes, because these tunes are readily recognized by a part of the brain that deals with emotion, the Amygdala. Brain studies have shown that much of what adolescents learn is processed in the amygdala, NOT in the frontal lobe where adults tend to process thoughts.

As a teacher, YOU can control the mood/atmosphere of your classroom with music.  Sometimes, I suggest quiet music playing as they enter…other times upbeat music, depending on the planned activity, time of day, and classroom chemistry. Teachers, as part of their job, should be responsible for exposing students to many life experiences, including different types of music. So, I would suggest trying what I know works for me: playing new wave, oldies, rock, current, classical, country, soul & a large variety of other sounds during classroom activities (I feel that classical music is especially important for them to recognize and appreciate.) I use several “sounds of nature” and classical music as soothing stimulation for writing/quiet times.

Music has been shown to release chemicals called neurotransmitters, which help facilitate messages to the brain. Dopamine and Serotonin are two such neurotransmitters that play an important role in education. Dopamine plays in a role in regulation of behavior, voluntary movement, cognition, motivation, reward, attention, learning and mood. Serotonin plays a role in regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning.

I would NOT suggest allowing students to control the playing of music – (they want to take control of the classroom, and thus, the atmosphere) but I would definitely take suggestions and decide if/when I would use their suggested music. Be careful of rap – it is often agitating, negative, and/or distracting. This can release a neurotransmitter called Adrenaline (also called Epinephrine), which can interfere with learning. It is the “fight or flight” hormone that re-directs energy to the muscular system.

I have assigned students an option to use vocabulary and write words to music using the topics given. They are often thrilled to be able to “perform” these songs to their peers. These experiences are often remembered long after they are performed.

Music shouldn’t be played all the time, but should be integrated into different activities. The whole idea is to make a brain connection! The next time that students hear the song that you played, it will remind them of your class and the information that you taught. Even 20-30 years later, some of my students have remembered these connections. Imagine…teaching a lesson that students NEVER forget!!


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