Music helps children learn maths
Listening to music in maths lessons can dramatically improve children's ability in the subject and help them score up to 50 per cent higher in examinations, a new study has found.
For tapping out a beat may help children learn difficult fraction concepts, according to new findings due to be published in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics.
An innovative curriculum uses rhythm to teach fractions at a California school where students in a music-based programme scored significantly higher on math tests than their peers who received regular instruction.
"Academic Music" is a hands-on curriculum that uses music notation, clapping, drumming and chanting to introduce third-grade students to fractions.
The programme, co-designed by San Francisco State University researchers, addresses one of the most difficult - and important - topics in the elementary mathematics curriculum.
"If students don't understand fractions early on, they often struggle with algebra and mathematical reasoning later in their schooling," said Susan Courey, assistant professor of special education at San Francisco State University.
"We have designed a method that uses gestures and symbols to help children understand parts of a whole and learn the academic language of math."
The programme has shown tangible results at Hoover Elementary School in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Courey's study included 67 students.
Half the group participated in a six-week Academic Music curriculum and the rest received the school's regular math instruction.
Students in the music-based programme scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test, taken at the end of the study, compared to students in the regular math class.
Significant gains were made by students who struggle with academics.
The researchers compared the test scores of lower-performing students in both groups and found that those who were taught the experimental music curriculum scored 40 percent higher on the final fractions test compared to their lower performing peers in the regular math class.
"Students who started out with less fraction knowledge achieved final test scores similar to their higher-achieving peers," Courey said.
"Lower-performing students might find it hard to grasp the idea of fractions from a diagram or textbook, but when you add music and multiple ways of learning, fractions become second nature to them."
Courey devised Academic Music with music teacher Endre Balogh. They borrowed aspects from the Kodaly method, a Hungarian approach to music education that incudes movement, songs and nicknames for musical notes, such as "ta-ah" for a half note.
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 programme has also proved itself at Allen Elementary School, a San Bruno public school - not included in the study - that has been using the Academic Music programme since 2007.
"Academic Music brings music into the classroom and gets children to learn math in a different way that's symbolic and not dependent on language," said Kit Cosgriff, principal at Allen Elementary School.
"In every lesson I've observed, the children have been excited and enthusiastic about learning fractions," Cosgriff said.