I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of an oddball.
To many A&P instructors, music is a tool for learning about the auditory system (Ganesh et al. 2016) or adjusting students’ moods (Anyanwu 2015, Modell et al. 2009, Weinhaus & Massey 2015), or a metaphor for the learning process (Modell 2018). These are valid, reasonable ideas. But for me, odd duck that I am, music is mostly a mechanism for teaching science content. If you can imagine a version of Schoolhouse Rock with really short songs written and performed by amateurs for undergraduate audiences (Crowther et al. 2015), you have the general idea.
There are many reasons why I do this, some well-rooted in research and others less so. Content-rich lyrics can condense some material into concise, memorable phrases. Such lyrics can be interrogated to make their meaning clearer, somewhat in the manner of an English class dissecting a poem. And singing about content with your students is a good way to convey that you care deeply about their mastery of it, and that scientists are human beings too.
If any of these ideas resonate with you, consider the following a friendly challenge for the fall. Are you ready?
- Identify and write down the 1-5 most important overall themes that you will emphasize in your course.
- Write a short song or rap introducing your students to those themes. If you are not musically inclined — or even if you are — collaborate with a spouse, colleague, previous student, or me to create the best piece that you can. (Here is an example of such a song: http://faculty.washington.edu/crowther/Misc/Songs/blessing.shtml.)
- Perform it live for or with your students on the first day of class.
- Facilitate a class discussion of what the lyrics mean. (Sample study questions for the song mentioned above are listed toward the bottom of the web page listed above.)
- Leave a comment to let me know how this went for you!
- Revisit your song at the end of the fall for further reinforcement and reflection.
What about those of you in the “silent majority” who are not quite ready to serenade your students, but are curious about this form of teaching and learning? Well, consider attending VOICES (https://www.causeweb.org/voices/2018/program) on Sept. 26. It’s a one-day online conference devoted entirely to teaching STEM subjects via songs. And it only costs $10! Is that music to your ears, or what?
E.G. Anyanwu (2015). Background music in the dissection laboratory: impact on stress associated with the dissection experience. Advances in Physiology Education39(2): 96-101.
G.J. Crowther, K. Davis, L.D. Jenkins, and J.L. Breckler (2015). Integration of math jingles into physiology courses. Journal of Mathematics Education8(2): 56-73.
G. Ganesh, V.S. Srinivasan, and S. Krishnamurthi (2016). A model to demonstrate the place theory of hearing. Advances in Physiology Education40(2): 191-193.
H.I. Modell, F.G. DeMiero, and L. Rose (2009). In pursuit of a holistic learning environment: the impact of music on the medical physiology classroom. Advances in Physiology Education33(1): 37-45.
H. Modell (2018). Jazz as a model for classroom practice. HAPS Educator22(2): 165-170.
A.J. Weinhaus and J.S Massey (2015). Pre-lecture reviews with anatomy tunes. HAPS Educator19(3): 35-38.
Dr. Greg Crowther teaches anatomy and physiology at Everett Community College (WA). His peer-reviewed articles on enhancing learning with content-rich music have collectively been cited over 100 times.