I've never been one to work well in silence. In college, I quit going to the library to study because it was too quiet and I had a hard time concentrating. I found it much easier to do homework while listening to music in my dorm room or while watching endless episodes of Law and Order.
So what's the big deal about listening to music in the classroom? Does it really make a difference?
I came across a blog post the other day that was very much AGAINST allowing students to listen to music. The author had some interesting arguments, ones I had never considered before and it made me start to rethink the issue.
Here's just a sample of reasons from teachers who were FOR allowing students to listen to music while they work:
- Allows students to tune out classmates (or hallway noise) and focus on work
- It relaxes students and puts them in a better mood
- It lessens anxiety
- Students can be rewarded for good behavior by allowing them to listen to music at end of class
- Style of music can be changed to relax students or energize them depending on task
- Students are less likely to talk or act out if listening to music
- Some students find it harder to work when it's quiet
And here are some of the reasons from teachers who were AGAINST allowing students to listen to music:
- No music allows for more conversations about math (and learning to communicate with others in general)
- Students spend too much time choosing their songs, volume levels are often distracting
- State testing does not allow music and teachers want students to learn to work without it
- Students are always "plugged in" and need a break from constant stimulation
- Some schools do not allow it
- Music distracts students and they accomplish more without it
- Students often choose music that is not school appropriate or not a style that the teacher enjoys
- Students distract others by singing along or dancing
So who is right? Is there a right answer?
What do the experts say?
The answer is complicated. And let's face it, music is controversial. Just remember what happened at the MTV Video Awards with Taylor Swift and Kanye West if you think everyone agrees on which song is best.
I am certainly not an expert on the topic, but it seems that the research has shown ambiguous evidence. There have been numerous studies and a wide variety of results.
You've probably heard of the "Mozart effect," the idea that listening to Mozart’s music can increase your IQ. But did you know that a similar study was performed using rock music and the children who’d just listened to rock music performed better than kids who’d just listened to Mozart?
Some studies suggest that changes in performance actually have more to do with positive changes in our mood, and not the music itself. We may find that we work better with a certain style of music, but it might just be that it's because we're happier and feel less stressed while we're listening to our favorite song. Some studies also suggest that for someone who is accustomed to listening to music while they work, there's actually a psychological withdrawal when the music is taken away.
But what about the studies that have shown the hazards of multitasking? It seems that most experts agree that multitasking doesn't actually work, but does listening to music count as multitasking?
According to Stanford Professor Clifford Nass, "In the case of music, it's a little different. We have a special part of our brain for music, so we can listen to music while we do other things." A new study showed that multitasking negatively impacts studying but listening to music had little effect. It seems that the debate is still out on whether it makes a difference if it's a song with lyrics or not, if it's a song you're familiar with already or not, etc.
Part of the problem that I see with many of the studies is that they compared tasks done in silence with tasks done with music. Even if teachers don't allow students to listen to music while they work, they're most likely not working in total quiet. I'd love to see more research done in actual classrooms with the distractions that remain from the hallway, intercom announcements, other students in the classroom, etc. It's important to remember that many of these studies were done with individual participants, not in busy classrooms filled with students.
So whether you decide to allow music in your classroom or not, I think it's important to remember that not even all of the experts agree on the topic. Music itself is controversial, we are not all going to agree on which style or artist is the best. Before we declare which option is best, we need to remember that our students have individual preferences and learning styles so there may not be a "one size fits all" solution.
There are fair arguments for and against allowing students to listen to music in the classroom. I'm not convinced there's one right answer in this case.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
Interesting Articles for Further Reading:
Should You Let Students Listen to Music in the Classroom?
The Mozart effect: The truth behind the claims
What Multitasking Does To Our Brain
Is It Good to Listen to Music while Studying?
Does Listening to Music Really Help You Study?
Are you a fan of calculators in the classroom? Now that so many have easy access to a cell phone at all times, is it really still necessary that students learn how to do math without a calculator?
I think we can all agree that calculators can be an extremely helpful tool for students, but there are dangers when students come to rely on them too heavily. A student who needs to type in 7 x 1 in a calculator is going to have a rough time when it comes to factoring quadratics!
How do we take advantage of a calculator as a helpful tool without it becoming a crutch or an obstacle to learning?
Do we ban calculators until a certain grade level? Let students use them all the time? Use them for some topics and not others?
I sent a survey out to over 10,000 math teachers to see how they handle calculator use and I think you'll be surprised by the results!
As you can imagine, no two responses were the same so there's no easy answer.
I think Brent P. said it best though: "I want the students to understand the ideas and concepts of math, and the calculator is a tool, just like a hammer. You have to put in the work WITH the calculator. You can't throw a hammer at a pile of wood to build a house. YOU have to put in the effort."
It's not always easy to decide if students should be allowed to use calculators in the classroom. There are a lot of factors to consider before making a calculator policy for your classroom. Here are a few things to think about:
Calculator Use for Students with an IEP or 504
First, it's important to double-check and see if any students require access to a calculator as an accommodation. Even if a calculator isn't required, you may want to consider letting some students have access to a multiplication chart if they struggle to remember multiplication and division facts. Here's a free printable multiplication chart if you need one.
Calculators and Basic Computational Skills
Are you working on basic computational skills like integer addition or multiplication? In these cases, most teachers who responded to the survey said they do NOT allow students to use a calculator when working on basic skills.
It's important to make sure students have a conceptual understanding of simpler operations like division or adding fractions before it makes sense for them to use a calculator to find the answer. A calculator can actually slow a student down if they're not fluent in their basic math facts, so it's important to wait until they have these mastered if you can.
Emily J. teaches 6th-8th grade and says she has her students take a test over the four basic integer operations before they can start using a calculator. Once they've shown her they have a conceptual understanding of these operations without a calculator, they can start using one to check their work.
When students are working on higher-level skills, especially at the secondary level, it's important to think about what you want students to focus on.
Instead of making an all-or-nothing policy about calculators, many teachers responded that their policy was dependent on the skill they were working on. Lana K. said, "When we are doing a review of basic calculations, no calculators. When they are doing other skills, which is where I want to focus the learning, they can use them. Skills such as solving equations or calculating area, SA, and volume - then they can focus on the skill rather than the computation."
Some students can make it all the way to high school and still not know their multiplication facts. Allowing a struggling student to use a calculator can save them time and help them catch small computational mistakes when they're working on more complex problems. In this type of situation, Patty V. is in favor of using calculators because she is "more concerned with mastery for the topic rather than finding the errors and time issues for lack of multiplication table knowledge."
Calculators on State Standardized Tests
Another thing to consider before deciding if students should use calculators is to consider if your state has a calculator or no-calculator section of its standardized test. I was surprised to learn how many states in the U.S. are using a built-in calculator from Desmos!
A majority of states are currently requiring students to use the Desmos calculator, so it's important to make sure students have opportunities to learn how to use it before the test. Click here to see if your state test uses Desmos.
I was also surprised to see that many states allow students to use calculators on ALL portions of the state standardized test. This is another factor that seemed to have a strong influence on teachers' calculator policies.
Teaching Students HOW to Use a Calculator
If you decide to let your students use a calculator, it's incredibly important that you spend time teaching them how to use it! A tool used incorrectly isn't much good at all.
Several teachers recommended starting to use a calculator to CHECK answers and reinforce what they already know. Make sure to take the time to show students how to correctly enter a problem and to show them common mistakes that can happen with calculators.
Make sure to check out the Desmos help center for lots of helpful training articles if you're just getting started with Desmos. If you're using TI graphing calculators, my friend Tyra from Algebra and Beyond also has several helpful graphing calculator resources for TI-84 or TI-Inspire!
What's Your Calculator Policy?
Are you for or against calculator use in the classroom? Or does it depend on the situation? Let me know in the comments below!
Ever tried to have a discussion about math with your students and just get crickets? Or there's the one or two students who love to talk and everyone else just waits for them to answer? . . . Just me? I've always wondered how students can have so much to talk about on their way into class, but then can clam right up when you ask a math-related question.
Why is it so hard to get students talking about math and what strategies can we use as teachers to make it easier to facilitate discussions? I had a chance to sit down with Kevin Dykema, the President-Elect of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to see what he had to say about the matter
Kevin Dykema has taught 8th-grade math in southwest Michigan for the past 26 years, he consults with school districts throughout the US, is a national speaker, and is now the NCTM President-Elect. He has a lot on his plate and so much wisdom to share! I had the opportunity to meet him this summer at the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference and was surprised to learn that we both lived in the same small town in Michigan at one point - small world.
I'm so grateful he was willing to sit down and share his advice to help teachers get students talking about math. Here's a peek into our conversation:
Why is it important to get students talking in a math class?
"When students are talking about math in math class, they are much more likely to be actively
engaged in their learning than when they are sitting passively and listening (or not really listening).
Through discourse, students are able to process the concepts being learned and begin to make
connections to other content.
For many teachers, we started truly understanding the math content we teach when we had to start talking about it- the same holds true for kids. And having students talk about math makes teaching math so much more fun!"
What are some simple strategies teachers can use to get students talking about math?
"I like to begin with some “low stress” dialogue opportunities and find things for them to talk
about that don’t have a “right or wrong” answer. For example, I like to use estimation180.com and
Which One Doesn’t Belong (wodb.ca) as some starting activities. Students need to get comfortable
with talking about math in math class before discussing new content.
I think it’s also vital to consider some of the logistics. You can save time as a teacher by
assigning their partners as well as identifying who talks first. By letting them choose a partner and
deciding who talks first, you may lose 5 minutes of valuable instruction time as they don’t often
decide very quickly."
It often seems there are a small handful of students that do most of the talking.
"I like to use Think-Pair-Share frequently. This increases the likelihood of more students
talking. Merely using this though may not result in more students being willing to share their
thinking. But as I’m monitoring and eavesdropping on those conversations, I can ask some students to share their thinking when we have our full class discussion.
I also like to ask if someone would you like to share what they heard in their group rather than asking them to share their thinking. By asking them to share what they heard, no one needs to know whose thinking is being shared - this can help with students who are afraid of being “wrong”.'
Do you have any favorite websites that you would recommend to help facilitate discussions?
In addition to the 2 mentioned earlier, there are so many great websites that help motivate
discourse. Some include:
As the President-Elect of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, is there anything
Could you use some free math resources to help engage your students and save you some time? You're in the right place! Here's a roundup of my favorite free Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry resources for secondary math students.
If you are new to using any of these types of resources, make sure to check out the links to blog posts with step-by-step directions to help you get started!