I thought this article would be in the category of “learning math through interpretive dance” but I’m happy to say, I was wrong. It’s about a math teacher who uses musical chants/rhymes to help students memorize (yes, memorize) particular formulas and procedures.
As she puts it:
“Memorizing basic formulas can make it easier for students to grasp larger, more abstract mathematical concepts because students’ minds aren’t mired in the minutiae, Jorgensen said.
For example, it’s easier to understand the square root of 36 if you already know the answer to 6 multiplied by 6.
Jorgensen’s method has yielded results. In her 8th-grade geometry class from last year, 23 of her 40 students had perfect scores on the Smarter Balanced exam, and in the 7th-grade algebra class, every student exceeded the standards, she said. Seven of those students had perfect scores.
I couldn’t believe I had actually read that and read it several times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Most teachers would be hung for saying something like that without mentioning the U word. (“Understanding”).
Oh, but wait. Here comes an apologist to offer a strawman about understanding and memorization:
Mark Ellis, a math education professor at California State University, Fullerton, said he observed elementary teachers in Japan using songs and chants to successfully teach math to their students and he has used music to help low-performing middle-school students learn their multiplication tables. … But it’s not the end of the story, he said.
“Music itself cannot teach kids to understand mathematics,” he said. “Music can help students improve dramatically, but ultimately math is not about memorization. It’s about reasoning, seeing patterns, making conjectures. It’s about meaning.”
Memorizing formulas will only be effective in the long run if students understand the concepts underlying the formulas, he said.
Anything else, Mr. Ellis? Oh, yes, he does have something more to say:
Ideally, students should be able to come up with formulas on their own, with guidance from the teacher. In some cases, it’s not even necessary to memorize formulas because so many students have calculators on their phones, he said.