New science music projects from Master Tom and Doctor Eva

Eva Amsen, a prominent science communicator/outreach person, has launched a quarterly science-music newsletter. You can sign up for it at her website,, and/or follow her music-science Twitter account, @musisci.

Tom McFadden, whom SingAboutScience has interviewed, has just launched a Science With Tom web show aimed at middle-school and high-school students. It includes a rap video with a space for students to write their own 2nd verse! The show has a series of segments whose playlist is for the general public; a teachers’ edition is available at

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Links: math song contest and more

MoMath Song Contest 2015. “The only rules are that the lyrics must be original and must be about math or a mathematical concept.” Deadline: October 9.

Andover [MN] math assignment turns numbers into music [from]. “Last school year, as Carda tried to find a way to pass on to her geometry students some of the fascination she has with math, she asked students to figure out all the prime numbers up to 500. Then she added that it would be pretty cool if someone could compose a song using the gaps between those numbers.”

Working Life: Songwriting and Science [from Science magazine!]. C. Neal Stewart Jr. lays out the parallels between songwriting and grant-writing/paper-writing. (Thanks to Marc Servetnick for this one.)

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STEM songs: not just child’s play

When I got the opportunity to fill a UW-Bothell display case with materials relating to educational music, I knew I would need some artistic help … so I enlisted my 8-year-old son.

We were both pleased with the end product, and had fun creating it together. It wasn’t just fun, though; it felt like a genuine collaboration. Phil asked LOTS of pertinent questions about my preferences; for example, “Should each student have their own desk, or should they share big desks?” Moreover, he demonstrated genuine technical skill. That speaker next to the singing teacher is his design, as is the computer on the teacher’s desk (hard to see, but elegantly simple) and the Lego-font N’s (which replaced my inferior ones).

As I said on, I would not hesitate to hire him again.

overall display

Legos close-up

classroom close-up

a conceptual model of how music might aid learning

student-written songs

the critics

example of ongoing research

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Shell #makethefuture music contest


From the Shell oil company comes the following STEM music contest….

Can you write a song that inspires others to #makethefuture better? If so, you could win $15,000!

Shell challenges musicians to write an original song using creativity, talent and the unique Sounds of Energy to help inspire others to reach their full potential and make a difference.

At Shell, we’re inspired by what is possible through creative and innovative people working together to make the future better. That’s why we’re celebrating them with the first ever Shell Make the Future Music Contest.

  • Submit your song in your profile between March 3, 2015 and May 15, 2015
  • Let the public vote your song to the top 10! Share your song with the public via Facebook and Twitter, May 4 – May 29, 2015
  • Top ten songs will go to a judging panel
  • Winner will be announced June 17, 2015

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JME Special Issue: Music in Math Education

Just received this from Larry Lesser, the Mathemusician of UTEP….

JME Special Issue Call for Papers:
Music as a Theme for Contextualized Mathematics Education

Guest Editors:
Song An, Daniel Tillman, Larry Lesser, & Andrea Shaheen
The University of Texas at El Paso

This Special Issue in Journal of Mathematics Education explores the affordances and constraints of employing music as a context for mathematics education, especially in the K-12 grades. We welcome articles that provide diverse perspectives on utilizing music and music-themed activities within any facet of K-12 mathematics instruction, preservice teacher education, or inservice teacher professional development. The Special Issue will primarily highlight empirical articles, although innovative theory or practice-based articles will be considered as well.

Extended abstracts (of up to 500 words, not including references) should be sent electronically (as a Word document) to: Song An at as well as copied to Daniel Tillman at by June 1, 2015. Accepted abstracts will be notified by July 1, 2015, and full papers will be due by September 1, 2015. The Special Issue is scheduled to be published in December 2015. Please see full version of this Call for Papers at

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YouTube’s auto-transcription needs work

Many science songs posted to YouTube (and other sites) don’t come with lyrics in text format, which renders these songs all but invisible to users of our database. Unless someone searches for a keyword that is in the song’s title, or searches for the specific artist who did the song, the song remains undiscovered.

I just noticed that YouTube now offers auto-transcription of many videos. Could this help us harvest previously unavailable lyrics?

Well … yes and no. YouTube does attempt to auto-transcribe lyrics from some music videos. However, its interpretations of those lyrics are reminiscent of the autocompletion guesses of a so-called “smartphone.”

As an example, let’s take Glenn Wolkenfeld’s Electron Transport Chain song, released last month. Here are the first two verses, according to Glenn.

Welcome to this story about cell energy
The goal is explaining how cells make ATP
It happens in the mitochondria which you can think of
As the cell’s energy factory

Mitochondria are double-membraned organelles,
An inner membrane and an outer one as well
The mitochondrial matrix is the fluid inside
It’s where reactions like Krebs cycle reside

And here they are according to YouTube’s auto-transcription.

welcome to the story about self-energy
called with explaining how cells make ATP
it happens in the bayou country which pick it
as a self going to back to work

by the country are couple members organelles
any demand plane however one as well
the mitochondrial matrix is the food inside
three reactors like Rip Micheals

I love that ATP production is said to occur “in the Bayou country.” It’s also interesting that comedian/actor Rip Micheals is involved somehow.

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Singing about science: father-son edition

On Tuesday evening my son Phil and I headed to the University branch of the Seattle Public Library for “Sing a Song of Science” with veteran children’s musician Nancy Stewart. Most of the kids there were very young — at 7, Phil might have been the elder statesman of the bunch — and he initially lingered by the stairs rather than joining the others. But after he answered one of Nancy’s first questions and she recruited him to hold up a picture of the sun for her solar system song, he was in. Before long, he was wiggling and dancing on cue.

Nancy’s show was filled with questions and puzzles. Her backdrop included a box for each letter of the word S-C-I-E-N-C-E, and inside each box was another word beginning with that same letter. Most were straightforward, but the second “C” turned out to stand for Cephalopod, a nice curveball reminiscent of They Might Be Giants. Also reminiscent of TMBG was her skillful reinforcement of her lyrics with musical elements. For instance, a song about a pulley had a melody that climbed up the scale as the pulley rose upward.

Nancy asked us to complete the sentence, “Science is …” Phil shouted, “Surprising!” I offered, “Rigorous!” Which isn’t a bad two-word summary of the joys of science. If you do something rigorously, the surprises are more interesting (to me, anyway) because they are more likely to be “real.”

Toward the end, Nancy introduced a fanciful dinosaur counting song with the words, “Dinosaurs are not around anymore, but if they were, I think they’d want to drive cars.”

“Not pteranodons!” Phil countered. Presumably his thinking was, why drive when you can fly? Note, however, that pteranodons aren’t dinosaurs. Nice try, wise guy.

By the way, several of Nancy’s science songs are available online through her website, A search of the database reveals that some even come with online sheet music! (Note the “score” buttons in the Links column of the search results page.)
Nancy Stewart

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Spring-to-summer link roundup (Updated)

From moths to music: Life for PhD biologists isn’t all science (Montana Kaimin)

[Keaton Wilson] is a member of The Whizpops, a children’s band that focuses on elementary education and science curriculum as the basis of their lyrics. One of his favorite songs on their new ocean-themed album is “Dolphin Disco.” The founders of the band, Casey Schaefer and Kevin Cashman, are elementary school teachers. The song-writing duties fall on them, but they often run lyrics by Wilson to ensure scientific accuracy.

Daytona teacher’s song-and-dance program helps kids absorb lessons (Daytona Beach News-Tribune)

The former cheerleader and Miss Bethune-Cookman University started developing the math and reading programs — including software and videos being used in classrooms at other Volusia schools and across the country — 10 years ago while teaching fifth grade in Broward County. Frustrated when her students had trouble grasping the concept of division, Pasley-Henry tried creating songs and dance moves to capture the children’s attention and help them remember the math rules to follow.

Communicating science through hip-hop (PLoS Blogs)

Ethan Perlstein: “…I think every seminal paper in the history of science should be immortalized and popularized in rap form. Someone needs to call Kanye’s or Eminem’s agents and see if they’re interested in bringing science to the masses. There are lots of papers to go around!”

Brotherly punk duo writes music for stage (The Western Star)

Being asked to write a song on relatively short notice is a tall order for nearly any artist. Asking a punk band to write a tune about mathematics for a stage play doesn’t make the task any easier.

10 awesome pieces of astronomy-inspired music (Astronomy magazine)

“Talent is an Asset” [is] the coolest song about Einstein ever. Example: “Look at Albert, isn’t he a sight; growing, growing at the speed of light.”

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Quick media roundup

I was pleased to be profiled by my local Fox News affiliate recently, and also by German radio station WDR. But Tom McFadden topped me by getting onto the national ABC News!

“We know that the students like technology, they like music, right? So you put those both together and the students are learning,” said Lolita Jackson, principal of KIPP Bridge.

“There’s such a dramatic difference when you can create something like this, that’s really professional, that makes an impact,” McFadden said. “That students get to see themselves as part of the fabric of culture and of the Internet and of education and creators. That has a big impact on anybody, especially students.”

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Science songster interview #18: Dargan Frierson

Another anecdote supporting the idea that the number of educators teaching science through music is larger than anyone realizes: This spring I was forwarded an email advertising a talk by about educational science songs … to be given at the University of Washington … by a UW professor who wasn’t me, and whom I had never heard of before.

To make a long story short and then long again, I went to the talk, which was great, and then conducted the interview below. (Photo of Dargan Frierson by UW College of the Environment.)

Dargan Frierson, Associate Prof. of Atmospheric Sciences

Sing About Science & Math: Tell us about Atmospheric Science 111 at the University of Washington, the course in which you sing regularly to students.

Dargan Frierson: ATM S 111: Global Warming is a survey class about the science of climate change. It’s a large lecture (240 students) with two hour meetings, so anything I can do to break up the lecture and keep everybody awake helps. I sing at least a song a week, sometimes two, on topics ranging from climate feedbacks (to the tune of “Get Back” by the Beatles) and ocean acidification (to the tune of “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers), to green roofs (“Paint it White” to the tune of “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones) and living a carbon neutral lifestyle (“Carbon Zero” to the tune of “Zero” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs).

SAS&M: You write original music as well, but for this class you mostly sing parodies of popular songs. Why?

DF: I think the concepts are more easily remembered when it’s part of a melody that people know. So for the students’ learning, I think parodies are better.

SAS&M: Your parodies tend to be of “classic rock” songs. Do today’s undergraduates seem to like these oldies, or do they groan with dismay (or shrug with ignorance) when you launch into a David Bowie tune? Do you feel any temptation to parody current artists in order to connect with students better?

DF: The students seem to know most of the old songs pretty well. Some have said that their parents played these tunes while they were growing up, so they know them pretty well. I can’t help doing a deep cut every once in a while though — like “Man Who Sold the World” by Bowie (which I learned from the Nirvana Unplugged album) or “Rain” by the Beatles.

Every once in a while I’ll do a newer song, but it has to be something I really like. I would love to do some rap (I even half-wrote a parody of Kanye West’s “Power” about the electricity grid), but unfortunately my rapping skills are neither funky nor fresh…

SAS&M: What do you consider your best atmospheric science song, and why do you consider it the best one?

DF: I’d say my best is “Albedo” written to the tune of “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5. It’s simple, and gets across the concept of albedo in a fun way. Songs where the hook is the scientific term you want them to remember = great for education.

SAS&M: Have you made any attempts to quantify the educational impact of your songs?

DF: I haven’t done too much in terms of quantifying the impact, but I have some good evidence about the Albedo song. The first year I taught this class I didn’t sing the song and about 70% of the students got the albedo question right on the test. The second year, after I had sung the song, over 95% of the students got it right!

I also surveyed the class this year on whether they learned from the songs, and 75% said they did learn substantially from them, beyond just enjoying them.

SAS&M: Your department, Atmospheric Sciences, has a holiday party that includes live musical and quasi-musical performances. Have your classroom songs, and students’ positive reactions, inspired other UW atmospheric science faculty to try singing to their own students? Have any colleagues reported whining along the lines of, “Why can’t YOU sing to us the way Prof. Frierson does?”

DF: Actually the parody songwriting in our department predates me! Profs. Mike Wallace and Dennis Hartmann were writing songs for our departmental winter party years before I got there, and their songs really inspired me to take it up myself. I sing songs written by both of them in my class. For example, one of Dennis Hartmann’s best songs is “Surface Pressure.”

I’m the only one who sings in class in our department, but I have gone in to several other profs’ classes to play songs though. I’ve told my colleagues that I’m always available for guest singing appearances in their lecture.

SAS&M: As mentioned by an audience member at your recent Sandbox presentation, a few researchers have sonified their data, i.e., converted it into music, either to help them detect patterns in the data, or to highlight such patterns for others. Your own research includes a lot of mathematical modeling of circulatory processes. Can you imagine sonifying your own data?

DF: I think sonification is really cool, but I can’t imagine doing it myself any time soon. My music is mostly acoustic instruments and singing, so I don’t have much experience with digital music or construction of sounds.

SAS&M: Finally, I believe that you are working on some sort of climate change video game. What can you tell us about that? Will it include a Bowie-esque theme song?

DF: Our video game project is still in the early planning stages, so there’s not much info to give just yet. I do hope to write some music for it eventually though!

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