As faculty, we want our students to achieve, but more than that we want our students to see, at least in some way, that what they are learning in class is related to life outside the classroom. In the sciences this is especially challenging, but extremely necessary. Most introductory science students find the idea of relevant science foreign. They enroll in science classes because they are required, either for their major or as a graduation requirement. On a student feedback form, I even had a student say that he or she thought our school made students enroll in chemistry class to increase school revenues. It troubles me that students who are enrolled in science classes do not see the relevance of the content we are teaching.
So then, how do we change the attitudes of students so that they are more open to learning and more likely to see how the course work relates to their lives?
A question that important and complex cannot be answered in a short article, but I’d like to share what I’ve been doing to address this relevance problem. I have been using music in my chemistry classes to increase student motivation and keep my students thinking about chemistry outside of class.
I started the project by asking students in my chemistry class to find music that included chemistry themes in popular lyrics. My general chemistry students had the option of submitting songs which coincided with chapter topics in the textbook. They were encouraged to choose songs from various popular music sources and not solely use YouTube to find science songs. The submissions represented a wide range of music genres mirroring the diversity of the student body on campus. The lyrics came from oldies, hip-hop, and rock, as well as some educational web-based songs. Some examples include Michael Orfutt with A Mole is a Unit, Bill Nye with Atoms in my Life, Coldplay with Speed of Sound, Keri Hilson with Energy, and Duncan Sheik with Half Life.
More than 80 percent of the class participated in this optional activity, submitting a total of 66 songs. One of my students, Audrey Cabe, helped me categorize the songs according to the course curriculum so that I could use them in future courses as well. The goal was to obtain at least one song for each chapter discussed in the Principles of Chemistry I and II. During that semester, and the following ones, I played the music in class, thereby giving students a completely different take on the chemical principle being discussed. Students often chuckle at the song choices, but they all can relate in some way to the music.
Based on student comments they are listening more closely for chemistry content in the song lyrics. When they hear words like “pressure” or “heat,” it jogs their memory to a scientific concept they learned about in class. The incorporation of music into my class has given students a new way to think about chemistry.
When the project ended, I had a repertoire of 27 different songs. With the majority of participating, I considered the project a success. It has proven to be a thought-provoking and fun activity to supplement each lecture session. It’s a way to get students thinking about science and seeing that it’s relevant to life beyond the classroom.