Reprinted with permission from "The Parent's Guide: Getting the Most
Out Of Your Child's Band or Orchestral Experience" published by The
Selmer Company.
Children Taught With New Curriculum
Combining Math and Music Score Higher
on Test of Advanced Math Skills and
Stanford 9
M.I.N.D. Institute shows building math education on
understanding of the brain helps children comprehend
advanced concepts at earlier ages and improve their
Stanford 9 math scores
Irvine, Calif. (February 24, 2000): A curriculum combining piano
lessons, educational math software and fun math problems can help
second graders achieve scores on certain tests comparable to fourth
graders, according to studies by the Music Intelligence Neural
Development (MIND) Institute.
The curriculum uses piano instruction to enhance the brain's ability to
learn, then allows children to apply that mental acuity toward math
problems, said Gordon Shaw, physicist and president of the MIND
Institute-a nonprofit group dedicated to research that uses music as a
window into higher brain function.
In the studies, second-graders from 95th Street Preparatory School in
inner-city Los Angeles were compared with fourth and fifth graders from
an Orange County school with a higher socioeconomic level. The
students took the advanced math concepts exams, which tested math
problem-solving ability, in 1999.
Second graders who received piano training, used the software and
practiced math puzzles and exercises every week attained scores
comparable to fourth graders. Half of these second graders scored in the
top 20th percentile of the nationwide Stanford 9 test in math, and these
students achieved scores on the advanced math concepts exams
comparable to the Orange County fifth graders.
"These are exciting results, and show the potential of connecting music
and math," said Shaw, professor emeritus of physics at UC Irvine. "Our
goal is to show that any school can get the results we obtained, and it can
be done economically."
So how does it work?
For 45 minutes two days a week, students get piano instruction from a
music teacher at school. Then they use computers to play an educational
game developed by the study's lead author and neuroscientist, Matthew
Peterson. They play the game, called Spatial-Temporal Animation
Reasoning (STAR) for 45 minutes on another two days a week. And one
day a week, their classroom teacher leads a math integration lesson, in
which students do brain-stretching problems aloud. These lessons add to
the regular math curriculum--they do not supplant it, Shaw noted.
Piano instruction is thought to enhance the brain's "hard-wiring" for
spatial-temporal reasoning, or the ability to visualize and transform
objects in space and time, Shaw said. Music involves ratios, fractions,
proportions and thinking in space and time. In a way, music primes the
brain to learn otherwise tough concepts for kids.
At the same time, when children use the STAR software, they are led on
geometric and math adventures by a penguin called JiJi--playing games
that boost their ability to manipulate shapes in their minds. Finally,
teachers bring the music and puzzles together for their math integration
lessons, tying the concepts into standard math lessons that concentrate on
a language approach. The children learn to enjoy exploring math, instead
of fearing making math mistakes.
Students taught with the curriculum demonstrated a heightened ability to
think ahead, Peterson said. "They were able to leap ahead several steps
on problems--in their heads," he noted.
MIND Institute researchers used the advanced math concepts test, which
tested skills in symmetry, graphs, fractions, pre-algebra problems and
proportional math, to evaluate the children's learning. These subjects are
all matched to topics covered in the state math standards for grades 2
through 5.
The findings are of major importance because a grasp of proportional
math and fractions is a prerequisite to math at higher levels, and children
who do not master these areas of math cannot understand advanced math
critical to high-tech fields. This type of math is ordinarily taught in grade
Four Los Angeles-area schools now use the curriculum, bringing music
and math to 380 second-graders. The MIND Institute hopes to expand to
10 schools in the next school year, with second- and third-grade
curricula. The institute also hopes to eventually expand the curriculum to
grades K-5.
The MIND study, which is being submitted for publication, is only the
latest in a series linking musical training to the learning process. Prior
studies based on a mathematical model of the cortex predicted that early
music training would enhance spatial-temporal reasoning, and a 1997
study showed that preschool children given six months of piano
keyboard lessons improved dramatically on such reasoning. A 1999
study combined piano keyboard lessons with STAR to show that second
graders at the 95th Street school could master advanced math concepts
through spacial-temporal methods. By adding the math integration
lessons, the present study ties into students' standard math lessons.
The major results for second graders are now measured in dramatically
increased written test scores that are comparable to those of fourth and
fifth graders at a school with a higher socioeconomic status. These
second graders also achieved high scores on the nationwide Stanford 9
math test.
The MIND Institute recently opened new offices in Irvine. The group is
a community-based, nonprofit scientific research institute whose mission
is to explore relationships among music, reasoning and the brain to the
benefit of society in education and medicine. For more information,
consult the institute's website at
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