I’m taking part in Blogging 101 in an effort to get my site up to snuff. One of my assignments was to take a Daily Post prompt and make it my own. Today’s prompt was: You make a new friend. Make them a mix tape (or playlist, for the younger folks) that tells them who you are through song.
So today, I will share with you my favourite educational and science-based songs. Teaching through songs is not a new idea. Teaching through science-based songs is not new either. Someone did her entire PhD Thesis on the idea. Whether or not is spreads remains to be seen.
Below are some of my favourite ‘educational’ songs. I’ve broken them into two groups: Facts and Concepts.
Songs that list facts are common place. When I was a kid I listened to educational songs for everything: the months of the year, the colours of the rainbow, my multiplication tables, and the alphabet. A version of the alphabet song is first on the docket.
1. “African Alphabet” with Kermit the Frog
Sesame Street was my childhood and I remembered this song as a kid, as teenager and as an adult. I couldn’t remember all the words but there were parts that I could repeat verbatim decades later. This song is a fabulous example of how music and narrative can make things stick. I remember the story of the letters “Amazing, Beautiful Creatures Dancing…”
2. “Nations of the World” with Yakko Warner
For all its impropriety, Animaniacs was one of those shows I looked forward to when we finally got cable. The “Nations of the World” song was another one of my educational favourites. I did not memorize all of the countries, but the song was fun. It was catchy enough in parts that I picked up at least a few nations. I don’t think Yakko gets them all, but I was pleased that he mentioned The Bahamas and pointed to the right place. Pointing out the locations highlights how many countries there are and where they’re all jammed together. I doubt that the song helped me with my high school geography, though.
3. “Parts of the Brain”- Pinky and the Brain
This is another fun song from the Animaniacs crew. It’s a little more humorous with Pinky’s exuberance playing off of The Brain’s deadpan nature, but it’s just as informative. Watching this as an adult is certainly different to chuckling at it as a kid. Now I actually know what The Brain is pointing to rather than simply waiting for the next time Pinky drops in with his “brainstem, brainstem” refrain.
4. “The Periodic Table Song” by ASAP Science
ASAP Science has only been around for a few years, so this isn’t a childhood favourite, but I do like this song. What I Ioved most about this video was the fact that I actually learned about the elements. In my high school science lab, there was a periodic table displaying photographs of each element. But at a certain point it ended up with a lot of chunks of silvery material; many of the elements are not terrible exciting to look at nor are they easy to distinguish from one another. The guys at ASAP Science do a great job of including functions or uses through their quirky drawings or props and it makes the video far more engaging. The downside of this song is that it will get stuck in your head like a horrible parasitic worm. Be warned.
Moving on from ‘facts’ we have ‘concepts’. Complicated topics can be difficult to transform into a song, but Symphony of Science (aka Melodysheep) does this brilliantly. Here are four of my favourite songs. They cover a range of topics and the visuals make for good viewing.
5. “A Glorious Dawn”- Symphony of Science
This is the first song that Symphony of Science released. It was back when autotune was the thing. Carl Sagan is a good person to get sound bites from because he was so focused on popularizing science that he said some lovely, poetic things that translate well into lyrics. There’s something awe-inspiring and grandiose about a:
“new more glorious dawn awaits, not a sunrise, but a galaxy-rise”.
6. “Ode to the Brain”- Symphony of Science
This is another song about the brain, but rather than listing parts it described the complex beauty of the blob in our heads that makes us who we are. It highlights the mystery and describes how the brain works on a very basic level.
“Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems and then it explodes into an enormous collage of what this present moment looks like, what it feels like, and what it sounds like.”
7. “The Greatest Show on Earth”- Symphony of Science
I am a huge evolution buff and so to find a song about the topic makes my little nerdy heart go all aflutter. This has sounds bites from David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. The visuals are perfectly timed and capture the grandeur of biodiversity. The song is quite information heavy. It starts from DNA, moves through the five kingdoms to humans, into the tree of life in ends with the objective of all life: to spread their genes.
“We find ourselves perched on one tiny twig in the midst of a blossoming tree of life”
8. Monsters of the Cosmos- Symphony of Science
The drammatic visuals and lyrics make this video my favourite from Symphony of Science. MelodySheep did a wonderful job pairing the visual representations of astronomical phenomena with the mystery of black holes. It’s less ‘poetic’ than the previous videos but highlighting the danger and violence of astronomical processes makes the video exciting.
“There are monsters out in the cosmos that can swallow entire stars. They can destroy space itself. Completely invisible. Anything that strays too close will get pulled in.”
Bonus: Bill Nye the Science Guy Theme Song.
I have to include this song because inertia is a property of matter. And Bill Nye is my hero.
Anyhoo, that’s Crossed Branches’ Science Mix Tape. Hope you enjoyed it.
Do you have any favourite educational songs? Share them in the comments.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Mix Tape Masterpiece.”
Governor, D., Hall, J., & Jackson, D. (2013). Teaching and learning science through song: exploring the experiences of students and teachers. International Journal of Science Education, 35(18), 3117-3140.
DawnJune 25, 2015 at 4:30 pm
I love your use of video on the blog. I’ve been learning more and more lately about the power of using video in adult learning and teacher professional development. Thank you for showing me a new way to incorporate – in my blog of course! Also – use of sound my incorporating a “mix-tape” of songs to use in education is phenomenal.
I’d love to have a fellow teacher check out what I’m doing at schoolteachersuperhero.com
Dr. AshJune 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm
Video can be a wonderful learning tool as the visuals can convey a great deal of information more quickly than words alone. In the post, I mentioned that research that was done on using song for children’s science education, but I’m not too familiar with what’s out there for adults. I suppose Symphony of Science might fall under the adult learning category, but I wonder about the effectiveness of the ‘explanation’. While I love the songs, they probably appeal more to an already science-interested audience than a general audience and I wonder how much new information someone might learn from them.
Thanks for commenting. I’ll be sure to check out your site.