Links: SingAboutScience.org in the news, writing science operas in Norway, etc.

• Colleague Katie Davis just presented our science music video study at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). This spawned a press release from the University of Washington and a report from local public radio affiliate KPLU.

• Oded Ben-Horin of The Science Fair is co-organizing a Write A Science Opera (WASO) course to be held August 3-9 in Norway. It targets middle-school science teachers! For details, please consult the WASO flyer.

• Speaking of middle school science, the Honeywell- and NASA-sponsored musical physics program FMA Live! Forces in Motion is now 10 years old. The Pensacola News-Journal has a report.

• Violinist Mark Wood warmed up for a performance at Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem by contributing to a lesson in the physics of sound.

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This is not a joke: the “MASSIVE” database is 10 years old

When I tell people that I have a free online database of science, technology, engineering, and math songs, they often think I’m kidding.

Last month, I completed my first decade of these incredulity-inducing conversations.

Yes, the database initially known as “MASSIVE” (for Math And Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere) was launched in March of 2004. Below are screenshots of the search page and a search results page from around that time.

MASSIVE search page, circa 2004

MASSIVE search results page, circa 2004

Not exactly a thing of beauty, was it? Yet I was immensely pleased with myself. I had taught myself (just barely) enough MySQL and php to make the thing work, and now teachers around the country and perhaps the world could easily search for educational music to support their lessons.

While the database itself has changed a lot since 2004, my irrational pride in it has not. And so, in celebration of the 10-year milestone, I offer the following notes:

• Educators and others who have not done so already are encouraged to check out my article in Biochemical and Molecular Biology Education (freely available to all as of January 2014), my blog post on incorporating the database into classroom activities, and/or my brief video tutorial.

• Thank you to those who have encouraged my development of the database over the years — especially Do Peterson, Wendy Silk, Brian Glanz, and Katie Davis.

• Thank you to Steve Nakazawa Hewitt, Kate Clark, and Andrea Mina for improving the appearance of the database’s user interface.

• Thank you to the many writers and bloggers who have taken an interest in the database and spread the word about it.

• Last but not least, thank you to everyone who, at one time or another, sent suggestions of songs to add to the database: Adam D. Philippidis, Alicia Volkheimer, Angela Brett, Antoinette Powell, Benedict Leigh, Bob Vitray, Chandra Senan, Daniel W. Yates, David M. Bott, David White, Deirdre E. Welton, Derek Habermas, Do Peterson, Elaine Fingerett, Gail Marcus, Helen J. Ougham, James D. Brooks III, Jennifer van Sickle, Jenny L. McFarland, Jeremy Fox, Joseph R. Conrad, Judy Molnar, Kathy Barker, Kevin Bourrillion, Kirk L. Van Scoyoc, Lasse Folkersen, Leonard Braun, Lynda Jeanne Jones, Martin Zitter, Mary Rodgers, Michael Lindner, Michael P. Williams, Michael Peacy, Myron F. Uman, Tonya Hennen, Tyler J. Mott, Wendy K. Silk, Will Johnson … and others whose names I no longer have.

As a 10th-anniversary tribute to these “star volunteers,” their song suggestions are now marked with orange stars in search results pages. Mousing over a star reveals who brought that song to my attention.

volunteer_stars

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Catching up: STEM music in the news

And the Winner for Best Science Parody is… (BioTechniques)

James Clarke of King’s College London is this year’s Lab Grammy champion for his video “The Tale of a Post Doc”!

Singer Charlotte Church says physics rocks her universe (New Scientist)

The song Entanglement came about after a house party in south London. A friend’s friend is doing a master’s in something physics-related. One of his specialities is entanglement theory. He started talking about it and I just thought it was incredible.

Bringing mathematics to the community (University of Western Ontario)

Led by [Western University education professor George] Gadanidis, the Math Performance Centre … seeks to promote and support the celebration of mathematics through the arts.

Vocalist Gia Mora returns to Bethesda with an updated ‘Einstein’s Girl’ (Gazette.net)

“There’s the Big Bang Theory [about the origin of the universe] … where everything collides and explodes,” [Mora] said. Cosmic dust coalesces into planets, and things start to settle down a little, much like falling in love and entering into a relationship over time. “I dived into it and thought, ‘This metaphor could really work.’”

Verbal Bling, Homicide, and Afrocentricity (Huffington Post)

Baba Brinkman writes: “When I was commissioned to write The Rap Guide to Evolution and challenged to communicate the key ideas behind Darwin’s theory in hip-hop form, my first thought was to go through my record collection and see if I could find any rap songs that already center around evolutionary themes. The three that seemed like the best candidates were ‘I’m a African’ by Dead Prez, ‘Survival of the Fittest’ by Mobb Deep, and ‘Hypnotize’ by Biggie Smalls. So I set myself the challenge of rewriting these songs to make them explicitly instead of just implicitly evolutionary.”

Saline native nominated for Grammy (Daily Register)

Rocky Alvey who grew up near Muddy and is now the director of Vanderbilt University’s Dyer Observatory co-wrote an album that was nominated for a Grammy Award. Alvey, who combined his lifelong passion for astronomy with his musical writing and singing skills, teamed up with two prominent female singer/songwriters to produce their album, “The Mighty Sky.”

RSM curator relishes his two loves: ecology and music (Leader-Post)

For some songwriters, combining music with social and environmental activism is a natural fit. But that isn’t the case for Glenn Sutter, a Regina-based folk recording artist and a strong proponent of environmental sustainability. “I’m very sensitive to not be preaching with music. For me, it’s a personal exploration and a creative outlet, for sure,” said Sutter, curator of human ecology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

Mississippi children learn with blues curriculum (Register-Guard)

Chevonne Dixon is one of the first teachers in the state to incorporate the blues into science, math, social studies and English lessons. So far this school year, the 9- and 10-year-olds in her class have written blues songs about the weather. They’ve composed short ditties about the travails of being a kid. And they’ve read classic blues lyrics to learn the challenges of growing cotton. “It makes them recall information, especially with that slow, melodic sound,” said Dixon.

Cedar Creek Middle School makes math fun (Statesman.com)

With the opening lines to their song, Cedar Creek Middle School eighth-graders Grace Becknal, Isabel Arevalo, Ariana Alvarado and Jorge Meza explained how to find the rate of a change — or the slope — of a line.

Beastie Boys’ ‘Girls’ Transformed Into Girl Power Anthem (radio.com/antimusic.com)

One of the Beastie Boys’ earliest and most famously misogynistic hits has been retooled by upstart toy company Goldieblox into a girl power anthem that encourages young girls to have fun with science and engineering.

MWV #81 – Sheldon Campbell – The Singing Microbiologist (Microbe World Video)

Dr. Campbell teaches microbiology at Yale School of Medicine and he uses music to enhance his lectures. He has one song for every block of lectures he gives on a major topic.

Genius student hides Rick Astley song lyrics in quantum physics essay (metro.co.uk)

One inspired student took the art of ‘rickrolling’ to another level by inserting the chorus from the singer’s hit song, Never Gonna Give You Up, into an essay.

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Dance of the Biomek FX

My lab works in part on high-throughput screening (HTS) of small-molecule libraries. Here is my low-budget tribute to the high-tech machines that facilitate this work.

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The first-ever Sing About Science podcast!

Fundamentally, music is an auditory channel of information, so podcasting about music is a logical thing to do. I have no special expertise in audio recording or producing, so I’ve been slow to attempt this, but today I present an MP3 file of a 45-minute conversation that others may find interesting. It’s with Monty Harper, a previous interviewee who is now in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to support a new children’s science music album. Listen in as Monty and I discuss the distillation of science into song, possible uses of non-”litany-of-facts” songs in the classroom, and much more!

Many thanks to Monty for help with the processing of the audio files … and to David Newman for the Sing About Science theme song.

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Another short, teacher-friendly paper

With the encouragement and assistance of colleagues in the UW School of Nursing, I contributed a short piece to their American Biology Teacher series on the neurobiology of learning. The article is called “Making material more memorable … with music.” It’s meant as a concise guide for teachers rather than as a comprehensive literature review. Check it out!

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“Science Worth Singing About” in NSTA Reports

The October 2013 issue of NSTA Reports (a publication of the National Science Teachers Association) includes a nice look at science music in the classroom on pages 8 and 9. It includes quotes from me, elementary school teacher Jeromie Heath (Pine Tree Elementary School, Kent, WA), curriculum consultant Lodge McCammon (North Carolina State U.), and chemistry grad student Olisa Menakaya (Tennessee State U.).

Your colleagues might also want to use your songs. “Many music teachers will be happy to incorporate science songs during music if you just ask,” Heath notes. “The same goes for [physical education] teachers: some play music during their activities in the gym… You can also ask your principal [if] your class [could] present a science song at an assembly.”

Other recent articles and posts of possible interest:

Bluford STEM Academy Shows School Pride Through Song (WFMY News). “The school took Robin Thicke’s song ‘Blurred Lines’ and changed the lyrics to positive words that are associated with their core subjects.”

Bohemian Gravity: Canadian grad student uses music to explain string theory (CTV News). “Rocking out to his own rendition of the hit song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ a Canadian physics student’s online music video explaining the concept of string theory has attracted the attention of Queen guitarist Brian May, who happens to hold a PhD in astrophysics.” Additional coverage: CNET.com; BBC America.

Edible Opera: Artists Turn Music into an Algae Meal (LiveScience.com). “The artists designed a special, futuristic suit that collects the carbon dioxide exhaled as Ashcroft is singing. This carbon dioxide feeds algae, which grows during the performances and is later prepared and served.”

Hip Hop Classroom To Boost Science Education (WNEP). “‘You learn all the things about force, mass and acceleration and it’s really fun show to watch because it’s not boring and you have fun watching it,’ said student Carly Hoak.” (Thanks to Monty Harper for this one!)

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New paper: “Amino Acid Jazz”

I’m excited that a paper of mine (with colleague Katie Davis) has just been published on the website of the Journal of Chemical Education. The title is Amino Acid Jazz: Amplifying Biochemistry Concepts with Content-Rich Music. Here is the abstract:

Music is not typically used in teaching high school- and college-level chemistry. This may be attributable to instructors’ perceptions of educational music as being solely for memorization, their uncertainty about how to incorporate music effectively, or because of a limited number of suitable songs in which the music and words reinforce each other. To address these issues by way of a biochemistry example, we created Amino Acid Jazz, a sing-along exercise in which students synthesize a musical polypeptide from amino acid building blocks. Along the way, musical elements indicate key points about protein chemistry and structure. This exercise is an example of how the music of a song can amplify (rather than distract from) the content of the lyrics, and can thus promote knowledge acquisition that goes beyond rote memorization. Furthermore, it may be extended to incorporate students’ own creative ideas. Most initial feedback from students and other teachers has been positive

If anyone wants a PDF of the full paper and/or a MP3 of a live demo, just email me (crowther@uw.edu). It is light on assessment data, but I think the general approach is explained in a compelling fashion (if I do say so myself).

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Summer catch-up, part 4: crowdfunding update

It’s time to update our previous compilation of crowdfunding campaigns related to science-based music.

1. Monty Harper: Songs From The Science Frontier (July 8 to August 22, 2010).

2. Baba Brinkman: The Rap Guide to Evolution – Educational DVD (December 2010 to January 2011).

3. Greg Crowther: Sing About Science & Math (May 1-31, 2012).

4. John Boswell and Will Crowley: An Album All About Science! (July 16 to August 15, 2012).

5. Lode McCammon: Music Can Move Us (November-December, 2012).

6. Baba Brinkman: Darwin Meets Chaucer Off-Broadway (January 23 to March 24, 2013).

7. Tom McFadden: Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (March 20 to April 16, 2013).

8. Science Notes: Science Notes Web App (April 29 to June 25, 2013).

9. Baba Brinkman: Don’t Sleep With Mean People (July-August, 2013).

10. Monty Harper: Funding a Children’s Science Song CD in 90 Days (ongoing).

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Summer catch-up, part 3

This might not be a real trend, but it sure feels like one.

Facilitating student science songwriting and performing is hard, and past efforts along these lines have seemed pretty intermittent and isolated. But a number of additional related projects have emerged this year.

I’ve previously mentioned my 6-week Music+STEM course for high school students. A couple of the products of this course were songs about DNA polymerase and proteins.

In June we got a closer look at Chris Emdin’s science education through hip-hop program, thanks to a compilation of Science Genius Rap B.A.T.T.L.E.S. finalists. (B.A.T.T.L.E.S. = Bringing Attention to Transforming, Teaching and Learning Science.)

The educational significance of these raps has been explained by Emdin in an interview smartly excerpted by Robert Gonzalez for io9.com.

Emdin: A lot of people do hip hop pedagogy [where they think] ‘kids like rap, [so] let’s rap,’ and they create raps or they perform raps and it doesn’t work. And the reason why it doesn’t work is because it’s what goes on in school already, [set] to rhyme. And that doesn’t work.

The distinction between saying something that rhymes and being a prolific MC [is that the latter] requires analogy, metaphor, drawing connections, weaving stories

Nice: And… cross references

Emdin: yeah

Nice: Which means you have to learn and know some knowledge here and some knowledge here in order to access that and bring it together.

Emdin: Absolutely. I was working with a young person once, and we get into the classroom and I want him to learn about water. So I teach him the lesson and he says ‘yeah, the lesson was alright,’ so I go ‘look, you’re a rapper… spit a rap about [water]‘ and he starts rapping about everything but water. He’s like ‘I’m fly, I’m sick.” He had like one line, ‘I flow like water’ … and I’m like ‘that’s not going to work. Go home, read the text book, come back and write a new rhyme.’

And he comes back in the morning and he’s like ‘yo, it’s type hard to spit a 16 about H2O.’

Meanwhile, Tom McFadden has been staging his own science rap battles: Rosalind Franklin vs. Watson & Crick, Pluto-is-a-planet people vs. no-it’s-not people, etc. In addition to the advantages of the Emdin approach, this also focuses students’ attention on the data upon which scientific arguments (and scientific progress) are based.

Getting students to tackle actual methods and data in their songs is not easy; I know because my own course was a complete failure in this respect! Kudos to Tom for this engaging approach for highlighting the process of science.

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