Music can help children learn difficult fraction concepts, according to a new study in Educational Studies in Mathematics. Researchers used a curriculum called “Academic Music” that, says Science Daily, uses “music notation, clapping, drumming and chanting” to introduce concepts of fractions to third-graders. The study is small in scope (only including 67 students at one school in the San Francisco Bay Area). But the combination of instruction in music and rhythm to teach math sounds very promising especially as it seems to draw on the notion of multiple intelligences, that there are other ways to learn including using one’s “bodily-kinesthetic” capacities.
Fractions are one of the “most difficult” topics in the math curriculum for elementary students. Researchers Susan Courey, assistant professor of special education at San Francisco State University, notes that, if students are not able to grasp fractions, they are likely to struggle in learning algebra and other mathematical principles.
Some students used the “Academic Music” curriculum for six weeks while others were taught with more traditional methods. The students who used “Academic Music” scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test than the other students. Moreover, students who were struggling in math especially made significant gains, with many achieving final test scores equivalent to those of peers who had previously scored higher.
Here is Science Daily‘s description of “Academic Music”:
The curriculum helps children connect the value of musical notes, such as half notes and eighth notes, to their equivalent fraction size. By clapping and drumming rhythms and chanting each note’s Kodaly names, students learn the time value of musical notes. Students learn to add and subtract fractions by completing work sheets, in which they draw musical notes on sheet music, ensuring the notes add up to four beats in each bar or measure.
The principal of another Bay Area elementary school that has been using the program since 2006 offered praise for the curriculum. “Academic Music” is able to bring “music into the classroom and get[s] children to learn math in a different way that’s symbolic and not dependent on language,” says Kit Cosgriff, principal at Allen Elementary School. 60 percent of the school’s student body do not speak English and many are from low-income families, so a method to teach math that is not language-based is especially welcome.
Indeed, “Academic Music” seems especially notable for its not relying on language and words to teach students; for providing an innovative method to help students with different learning styles succeed in math. In a world where skills in technology, engineering, math and science are prized — especially as young people seek to find careers in such areas a competitive job market — giving more children a strong foundation in math, and a sense of success in learning it, has become more essential than ever.
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