Sing a Song of Science

Using parodies of popular music to introduce and reinforce concepts in secondary classrooms.

By Sue Selle


young girl listening to music

It's an ever-growing issue in classrooms of all grade levels and socioeconomic backgrounds; as MP3 players become smaller and more accessible for all, many educators find themselves fighting for attention against music. Not only are there the ubiquitous earbuds snaking their way through t-shirts and up the necks of our kids, but now clothing companies are catching on to the niche market of guerrilla song-sneakers and making hoodies with stealthy headphones built in. How can we, as teachers, compete? Who says we have to? Learn some fun and clever ways to engage even your biggest musicophile by not only welcoming music into your class, but by teaching with music as a deliberate instructional strategy.

More than Just Listening to the Radio

For many middle and high school educators, bringing music into the classroom means lugging that old boom box out of storage and allowing kids to listen to some school-appropriate music, which can be quite challenging to find, while working on an art project. For other teachers, it might mean dusting off that old Schoolhouse Rock tape that reminds us of Saturday morning cartoons, but has little meaning to today's learners (although many of those songs still work well in class; follow the link above to find lessons using Schoolhouse Rock). There are, however, ways to introduce and reinforce difficult concepts in class through the modern music our students love without spending hours and hours sifting through drivel. Below are links to some excellent song parodies for middle and high schoolers that your kids will want to watch again and again.

Math Songs:

  • High school math parody videos featuring teachers and kids getting creative with math
  • Ms. Trenchbull and the talented kids from Meyer Levin School for the Performing Arts present Long Division Style
  • Thrift Shopparody class project about functions made by Zachary Lee and friends

History/Social Studies Songs:

Science Songs:

Produce Original Videos with Your Class

To bolster engagement even more, have your class create a music video together. It may sound daunting, but with even some simple technology (iMovie or Windows Movie Maker), your aspiring musicians and producers can shine and make a product they are proud of, can learn from, and will want to share with friends and family around the world. You will discover that this is a project where every learner is a thrilled participant, and by dividing the labor of the project, differentiation is a snap. Depending on students’ interests and talents, the following groups can be formed, allowing each individual to be an integral part of the project: songwriters, singers, video curation (finding pictures and/or making video clips that match the theme), and final production. Because not all groups are active at the same time, there is ample time for continuing your regular curriculum with small group instruction while the different groups are working on individual sections of the project. If a group misses some instruction in class, there is an opportunity for the kids to teach each other in a collaborative learning setting. 

Here is a suggested workflow for the project:

  • Select a topic (a standard your curriculum does not cover well, or something you want to ensure the learners will remember)
  • Whole-class research (direct instruction, webquests, reading, etc.)
  • Class vote to pick a song to parody (something catchy with a singable range, school-appropriate lyrics because the songwriters and singers will need to be very familiar with the original song)
  • Songwriters write lyrics while video curation crew finds pictures and video
  • Production group matches lyrics to video
  • Once complete, upload to YouTube or TeacherTube (create a channel for all class videos)
  • Classes promote their videos through social media, e-mail, and word-of-mouth grassroots campaign
  • Check on analytics to see number of views, and in which the states and countries the videos have been watched (a great way to incorporate geography into any class)
  • Set a deadline for classroom competition categories and prizes (pizza parties, ice cream floats, etc.)

These are just a few ways to work with your pupils’ love of music while also offering the musical learners in your class a chance to thrive. In a time when arts are being cut from many districts’ budgets, bringing music into your classroom in an intentional way can inspire children who are struggling to grasp concepts, allow them to study in a fun way, and offer an opportunity for them to share educational content with their families, while fostering a love of learning. So, rather than spending your class time policing secretive iPods, entice your kids to enthusiastically embrace the class's content with memorable, musical projects.