School You in Biology: Let the Music do the Work

Presented by
Kristin Chavis, Green Oaks High School (LA)

In the 21st century classroom students don't just want to hear you talk for 20+ minutes. You may feel like you're being informative or that it's necessary, but for the learners not so much. Our society has created a generation of people with such short attention spans. People are more receptive to music, dance and videos. Combine those together and you get engagement and 21st century learning. Learn how to put your STEM lesson in an effective song format which will allow the song do the teaching. As the educator you will just have to facilitate, monitor and assess. If a mini-lecture does take place the learner has the song to reflect back to. However making a general song is not effective. You must study the culture, know your content and assess using your own material.


Kristin, thank YOU for joining us at VOICES! I think your point about alignment is hugely important. Song should cover specific content that the students need to learn (that part is fairly obvious), but (here's the less obvious point that you really nail) most students do not learn all that well just from listening to the song lyrics; they need practice translating those lyrics into alternative phrasing, worksheet answers, etc. Your examples of how you do this are helpful. In general, I think we all should ask ourselves whether we're following up each song with some reinforcement activity, and if not, why not?

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 01:23 Permalink
Kristin Chavis

In reply to by crowther

Thank you Dr. Crowther for having me. I think the biggest mistake I made in the beginning was thinking that if I could put all the puzzle pieces together they could do the same and it just doesn't work like that. You have to be precise with the material that you're presenting and the goal you want to me at the end. With knowing where you want to be in the end. They have to be able to translate what you are saying to them through reinforcement. If they can tell you about it they know. If they can't....back to the drawing board.

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 08:51 Permalink
Lynda Blodgett

This is fantastic! I think teaching students a song that has concepts and answers to questions on a worksheet or test is excellent pedagogy. You also said you use "music, video and dance."
I have taught students to solve the gas law equations by having them move physical variables on cards on their desks. But then I taught them the words to a song, "to solve, you slide diagonally across the equal sign, from lower left to upper right and right to left in kind..." And while they were singing that, they were on their feet and had to move their arms to show movement of the variables in the direction about which they were singing. So using song, physical objects and dance are very useful. I would then give them a test on solving gas law equations. That kind of teaching feels good to me.

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 21:39 Permalink
Kristin Chavis

In reply to by Lynda Blodgett

You are absolutely right about singing and using some type of moment to connect to the skill that you want your students to master. Honestly in school students sit down a lot and we do most of the standing. When we change that standard and allow them to move and put a purpose behind them moving it breaks the barrier of learning not being fun. Our definition of boring and the kids definition of boring are two different things. They like to move and sing. I love how you are taking the pressure off of Chemistry and giving it some spunk! It's already an intimidating subject so let's sing about it.

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 08:59 Permalink

Nice job Kristin! I particularly support how you've given careful thought to the lesson plans that go with a song and how to be sure they truly align with course learning objectives.  

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 13:36 Permalink
Kristin Chavis

In reply to by dpearl

Thank you so much. I didn't realize at first how important alignment was at first because I had no clue what I was doing. Honestly a big mistake educators make is making the assessment after we've taught. Now we have sit there and think while selecting multiple choice questions, "I taught this." "They should know this." It simply doesn't work that way. They have to see the same content repetively in different ways. And the same way they saw it in the reinforciment should be familiar on the test.

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 09:14 Permalink
Kristin Chavis

You are absolutely right about lifelong learning. We are all walking examples of the beauty of science. There are so many aspects of this subject worth learning about. Putting into song format attracts learners from all walks of life. Learning shouldn't stop in grade school it should be a continuous process.

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 10:01 Permalink
Jennifer Breckler

Great to see your enthusiasm for your students. As a physiologist myself, I loved seeing what you did with homeostasis. Nice use of your assessments to drive the songwriting (backwards design). Bravo Kirstin!

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 15:06 Permalink