Monday, 29 July 2013

Maths and Mozart

Mozart and Maths – a winning combination?

Playing Mozart to your pupils will increase their grades in Maths. This seems to be the general tone of a number of articles that I have read in books and the press over the years. The ‘Mozart effect’ even extended to some companies producing CDs and videos that mothers could play and show their babies with the suggestion that it would maximise the little ones potential. Is it true? Can playing a piece of music make a youngster more intelligent?

 There have been many academic studies of the effects of playing Mozart to students the effect of students performance when doing Maths. One of the best articles that I have come across is by Judy M Taylor and Beverley J Row ‘The Mozart effect and Mathematical connection’. This is well worth a read, not a long article but provides a short and concise review of the literature.

The original study only claimed a temporary effect in students ability to perform spatial-temporal tasks. Since then there has been a growing volume of research into the diverse use and effects of music, Mozart in particular and its effect on cognitive function, priming and mood or arousal. This expansion of research, from simple learning to a more complex educational and therapeutic uses, has yielded different and often conflicting results. 


Accelerated learning

In education it the ‘Mozart effect’ seems to fall under the banner of accelerated learning, which is a collection of ideas and techniques that purport to improve and enhance the classroom and learning experience. An excellent book that covers most of these ideas is Accelerated Learning in Practise: Brain-based Methods for Accelerating Motivation and Achievement well worth investigating. Accept some of the ideas, reject others, but there is a wealth of ideas that will challenge your practise.


My classroom

I decided to try out music in my classroom. I prepared a few pieces of Mozart and Bach’ loaded them onto my laptop and experimented. As the classes came in on the first day I had a fairly jaunty piece playing, some kids questioned what was going on, others objected, most looked bemused or ignored it. When everyone was seated, books out, I lowered the volume and the noise in the class reduced, they had been trained by TV programmes that when the music stops something else happens.


I did my ‘chalk and talk’, as we used to say, set the next phase of the lesson in action, and gently raised the volume of the music so that it was just audible. The lessons that day did not to my mind seem significantly different. It is very easy to fool yourself that things had changed so I tried to keep an open mind. I continued for several weeks to play Mozart and Bach then one lesson I forgot to start the music. After I had given my starter and main exposition I set the class to work, within a few seconds several kids wanted to know where the music was, they had come to expect and like the experience.


Does playing music make a difference? I do not know but I feel that it alters the mood in my classroom, the pupils appear to me to be calmer, less anxious and even happier. As for improvement in performance, again I cannot say what affect it has as any views would be purely anecdotal but if the atmosphere is better in the classroom then the conditions are right for improvement.


Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

One of my lessons had to be curtailed because of a school event. Whilst packing away early on a girl complained that I hadn’t played her favourite, she couldn’t tell me what it was but hummed a piece, it was ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ by Mozart. A few others agreed that they liked that as well. The next lesson I saved that piece for the end of the session, and said I was going to play their favourite. Within seconds of starting the piece the whole class was working and humming along to the music, what a fantastic experience, one happy hard working class, one happy teacher.