Music Videos Boost Scientific Literacy!

As the United States puts ever-greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to keep competitive in the global economy, schools are trying to figure out how to improve student learning in science.

University of Washington researchers Katie Davis and Greg Crowther think music may be the answer for some kids. They studied the ability of music videos to enhance students’ understanding of scientific concepts.

Davis will present “Sing about Science: Leveraging the Power of Music to Improve Science Education” on Friday (April 4) at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference.

Davis and Crowther aren’t just talking about music as a mnemonic device to help students memorize facts. Previous research has shown that music can reduce stress and increase student engagement in the learning process, so the researchers theorized that music videos could help some students process and retain information better.

“It makes sense that we shouldn’t teach all kids in the same way; we should individualize,” said Davis, an assistant professor in the UW’s Information School. “We need to provide multiple entry points in all subject matters. Music is a different entry point into scientific concepts.”

Crowther is a biologist but is so interested in music that 10 years ago he created a website with a database of songs about science and math; SingAboutScience.org now has links to more than 7,000 of them (the majority do not have video). Teachers can type in a topic and find music relevant to what they are teaching.

For their current research, they set up laptop computers at five science-related outreach events in Washington state. Most targeted students in K-12, but adults also participated. Participants in the study ranged from 3 to 76 years old, with a median age of 12. Each person sat in front of a laptop and selected a science-based music video to watch.

For instance, one video is titled “Fossil Rock Anthem,” and is a parody of the hip-hop song “Party Rock Anthem.” It shows a dancing paleontologist, graphics of fossils and ground striations and continental plates drifting. It’s a catchy tune with fun, colorful graphics.

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