STEM Songs for Non-Singing Instructors?

Presented by

Walter Smith, PhD, Haverford College (PA)


It's easy for instructors who enjoy singing to use songs in their classes. But the vast majority of instructors are unwilling to sing in class. Are there good ways for them to use the power of songs for STEM teaching? We'll discuss your ideas and your experiences that might apply to this group.


Interesting bunch of ideas. One thought I have for getting students involved in a song video (partially inspired by Dane Camp's video poster) would be to play a song with many definitions or musical lines that clearly should contain a particular word, then get students to fill in these words by pausing right before the word. One could even have a word bank visible that the words might be pulled from. The students yell out the word, then you start the song back up again.

Walter, thanks for this concise, nicely organized look at a focused topic. I think your very first question might be the one that is most interesting to me. I used to have an attitude of, "Anyone can do this," offering suggestions similar to yours. Now I find myself a bit more reluctant to be a STEM music evangelist.  For me, a key question is, is music just another tool in educators' toolboxes (which a few will use and most will not), or does music have a unique power that means we should advocate for it more strongly?  I tend to believe the latter, but "music" means so many different things to different people that I'm not sure whether I or most instructors can harness that power in a consistent, reproducible way. This is one consideration that pushes me (somewhat reluctantly!) toward thinking more about student songwriting, in which students can work in whatever genres/styles resonate with them.

This is very clear thinking. We need to have videos of singing which contain visuals, or, if actions are needed, actions, which students can see and perhaps imitate. I have found that physical actions, such as sign language-like motions to accompany songs are helpful to students to help them remember things. My vote is to create videos that teachers who do not sing can show, perhaps along with a worksheet upon which answers from the song may be written.

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