Music Videos Enhance STEM Learning
April 3, 2014

Using The Power Of Music To Improve Science Education

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Music videos with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) themes may enhance students' understanding of these concepts, according to a new study from the University of Washington.

While previous research has shown that music can reduce stress, increase student engagement and help students memorize facts, University of Washington researchers Katie Davis and Greg Crowther theorized that music videos could also help some students process and retain information better.

"It makes sense that we shouldn't teach all kids in the same way; we should individualize," said Davis, an assistant professor in the University of Washington’s Information School. "We need to provide multiple entry points in all subject matters. Music is a different entry point into scientific concepts."

As a biologist, Crowther has been so interested in music that 10 years ago he created a website with a database of songs about science and math,, which now has links to more than 7,000 of them (the majority do not have video). Teachers can type in a topic and find music relevant to what they are teaching.

In the current study, the researchers set up laptop computers at five science-related outreach events in Washington state. Participants, who ranged in age from 3 to 76 years old, with a median age of 12, sat in front of a laptop and selected a science-based music video to watch.

One video, for instance, was titled "Fossil Rock Anthem," and is a parody of the hip-hop song "Party Rock Anthem." It’s a catchy tune with fun, colorful graphics that show a dancing archaeologist with images of fossils, ground striations and continental plates drifting.

Participants took a pre-video quiz of four questions related to information in the video, plus a bonus question not covered by the video, and were asked to rate their confidence in their answers.

They were then randomly assigned to watch either a visually rich music video, or one that showed only the lyrics on screen. After viewing the video, they took a post-video quiz that included the same content and confidence questions.

The results showed that with two-thirds of the music videos, participants had more correct answers after viewing them, with scores rising by an average of one additional correct answer after viewing the video. The lyrics-only music videos were as beneficial to improving quiz scores as the visually rich videos, the researchers said.

Participants improved their scores not only on factoid-type questions, but also the more complex comprehension questions, demonstrating that the videos actually improved scientific understanding, not merely memorization.

Pre- and post-quiz scores were no different for the bonus questions, which did not cover material from the videos, suggesting that the boost in quiz scores was due solely to watching the video, and not by some other variable.

The researchers noted that everyone learns in different ways, and that past research has shown that students learn best with hands-on, personally relevant tools that utilize powers of observation and audio-visuals. They also point out that a person's memories can change based on an emotionally charged atmosphere, and since music is an emotional medium, it makes sense that our educational memory could be enhanced by it.

"We're not saying this is the only way you should teach science, it's just a different way," Davis said. "We're hoping it can engage a broader array of students, to help them find success and create identities as science learners."

Crowther said the nature of music videos also makes the learning process more enjoyable.

"There wasn't a teacher breathing down students' necks telling them they had to learn this for a test. People voluntarily watched these videos for fun. This is exactly the type of opportunity we should be creating more of. Students will seek it out just because it's fun and interesting."

Davis will present "Sing about Science: Leveraging the Power of Music to Improve Science Education" this Friday at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference.