Math and Music

Math, Music and Movement

Reports show that North American students continue to underperform in mathematics (National Assessment of Educational Programs [NAEP], 2005; National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2009; PISA, 2007 & 2013). This leaves large gaps in our schools, universities, and in our current and future workforce (Gateway, 2006; NSF, 2010; Manpower, 2010; Statistics Canada, 2013). The repercussions this intellectual shortfall are huge as a Nation’s economy depends on their ability to produce a workforce that enables them to be innovative and nationally competitive (Association for Career and Technical Education [ACTE], 2001; Networking, Architecture, & Storage [NAS], 2007; NSF, 2010; Orpwood, Schmidt, & Hu, 2012). Having a skilled and knowledgeable workforce that can solve real-world problems is critical for the health, wealth, and cultural vitality of a nation (Fullen, 2010). Given that over eight million jobs (in the US alone) will require STEM skills by the year 2018 (Lefkowitz, 2014), and the fact that we are projected to be grossly unable to meet these demands (NSF, 2010; Orpwood, Schmidt, & Hu, 2012), the urgency to produce a citizenry that is literate in the STEM fields has never been greater (Manpower, 2010; Parntership for 21st Century Skills, 2010).

Why Math?

To be successful in the STEM fields, students need to be mathematically literate as mathematical knowledge is the foundational building block for learning science and acquiring skills in engineering and technology. Additionally, mathematics is important because according to six large, longitudinal studies that included students from Canada, the US, and England, early mathematical skills are a greater predictor of future reading, math, and academic success more so than socio-emotional skills, attention issues, socio-economic status and even early reading skills (Duncan, Dowsett, Claessens, Magnuson, Huston, Klebanov, Pagani, Feinstein, Engel, Brooks-Gunn, Sexton, Duckworth, & Japel, 2006).

The evidence is clear; math is a critical and necessary skill for all students in today’s technologically-advanced, data-rich world. Thus, the question on everyone’s mind is how do we get more students to become proficient in mathematics not just for the good of STEM so they are aptly prepared fort he demands of the 21st Century.

Moving Full STEAM Ahead

In order develop a robust understanding of math, students need to be engaged in non-traditional ways inside the mathematics classroom. Finding innovative ways to teach math conceptually will ensure more students can successfully engage in mathematical learning. One way to do this is to add “Arts” to the STEM equation.  Using music to teach math has been found to be a highly effective way to ensure students develop a deeper understanding of math (San Francisco State University, 2012, March 22).

Adding Art to STEM (STEAM) removes barriers for many learners  while providing multiple entry points for students to engage in mathematical learning. In addition, it will make math (and science) more meaningful, more connected, more conceptual and more engaging to learn. Furthermore, adding arts to math provides students with real-world math experiences where they come to see, feel and understand how math applies to the world around them. This kind of learning fosters a deep, conceptual understanding of mathematical ideas as opposed to a memorized, disconnected, and shallow understanding. This is important as the in order for students to be aptly prepared for their future, they need the full range of math skills which include problem solving, computational literacy, mathematical reasoning and communication skills, as well as mathematical fluency and flexibility (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000).

Music and Math

Historically, it has been assumed that there is a strong connection that exists between music and mathematics (Vaughn, 2000) however, many people fail to see the connection. Recently, there has been a significant and increasing amount of literature that is bringing awareness to the strong connections between music and math (Hoch & Tillman, 2012). This explosion of research is promising as it supports previous assertions that music has a positive effect on one’s ability to learn and do math (Gardiner, Fox, Knowles & Jeffery, 1996).

Summary: STEM + Arts = Opportunities for all!

Math is a critical and necessary skill for all students in today’s technologically-advanced, data-rich world. Students who are not mathematically literate will be greatly disadvantaged in this future world. Consequently, it is unjust not to give every student the opportunity to be mathematically literate so they can be optimally positioned to be a full and active participant in their future. Since neuroscience tells us all students can do math at high levels (Boaler, 2012), we know this goal is not merely a dream, it is in fact attainable.

Combining music and movement with math is one way to help achieve this critically important and timely goal. Adding music and movement to mathematical learning removes barrier of entry for many students, provides meaning and context, and makes learning math fun and engaging. Additionally, learning math through movement and music helps allows math concepts to no longer remain abstract and disconnected from students’ real world experiences. Through music and movement, students come to see, appreciate, and connect with math in the world around them. By integrating the Arts (music, visual arts, and/or performing arts) with math students have the opportunity to learn math in ways that foster a deep conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts as they feel, experience, understand, and embody mathematics. Through music, students not only learn math, they become mathematical beings.

The evidence is clear; it is time to add Arts to the STEM Equation!

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