Over the last year 23 case studies have been developed by the Bowland Trust. The focus of the case studies has been to make mathematics more attractive to Key Stage 3 pupils. One of the case studies has been developed in two East London schools, St Angela’s RC School and Oaks Park High School. Two of the teachers involved have written about what it is like to be involved with such a project.
Record Producer – a case study developed by the Institute of Education, London.
Listening to music is frequently cited by young people as one of their main pastimes, and the music industry is often of interest to them as a potential career choice. Many young people also have strong opinions about different types of music, with favourite genres and artists. The case study utilises this keen interest in music to provide the opportunity for a statistical investigation. The similarities and differences between genres of popular music are analysed, with particular focus on the variable of tempo, as well as other variables such as heart rate, length of track, key, loudness and rhythmic pattern.
The students were encouraged to find ways to fairly analyse their data and to think about where error might occur within data collection. They were also encouraged to explore a wide variety of ways to display their data and communicate their findings.
This case study was developed at St Angela’s RC School in Newham and in Oaks Park High School in Redbridge. The teachers played an integral part in the case study and contributed to the overall design and development of the task. Two of the teachers Aishling Ryan and Sue Soman from St Angela’s played a very positive part in the development of the classroom materials. These are some of their reflections on the task and what it is like to be involved in the piloting of new materials.
Aishling Ryan (left) and Sue Soman (right) both mathematics teachers at St Angela's RC School in Newham
A Reflection on the Music & Maths Project at St Angela's
Here are some of our thoughts as we reflected on our experience of the Music and Maths Project.
“One of the eye openers of lesson one was how difficult students found it to differentiate between qualitative and quantitative variables. The project was taught to set 1 first, which was a class full of talented musicians. Although they were also excellent mathematicians, they seemed to associate music variables with each song, without maths even entering their heads. It took some time for them to realise how difficult it was to measure a song’s genre using music variables using instruments. Even after agreeing that BPM could be used to compare different songs, students weren’t all that convinced that it was the best way to compare songs. Set 2 were easier to convince that the BPM could be used, however there not as many musicians in the class. Once the students began investigating their own music, they convinced themselves that we could actually use the BPM of a song as one measure of its genre. This of course showed us how important it is for students to work things out for themselves and how much they can gain from discovery learning in the right context.”
“During the investigation stage of the project, students in set 1 worked very well within their groups. They were able to organise their roles effectively and generally planned the time they had well. Although the task was quite open to their individual interpretation, the students focused on a mathematical comparison of their music. In the presentation lesson which followed, students brought together their previous mathematical knowledge using various statistical measures and diagrams to explain their findings to the class.
However, the difference in set two was very apparent. Mrs Soman had adjusted the groupwork sheet, which became more detailed and provided structure for the students through a series of leading questions. From the outset, students were not as efficient organising their roles or planning what they would do for the hour. While they followed the worksheet throughout their investigation, they fell at the interpretation stage. At this point students were simply asked “Compare the different BPMs of your songs and describe what the results tell you?” Although this seems rather closed, it leaves the method of comparison completely up to the students. They were not able to draw on previous knowledge or think outside the realm of “A was the fastest, B was the slowest, C and D were the same”.
On reflection, this lesson taught us a huge amount about undertaking a project like this. It seems that when we decide to “go crazy” and do a series of lessons with a clear cross curricular link, our time is often spent presenting the other subject in a mathematical light and making connections between both subjects. It seems that as devoted maths teachers we are programmed to look at everything in a mathematical way. On the other hand, students are often captivated by the link to another subject area and as a result lose sight of the mathematical objective behind the exercise. Therefore, they don’t always end up achieving the mathematical goals we have set for them. However, if we develop a clear idea of how students will use cross curricular links in maths (and vice versa) before we go into the lesson, students will benefit more.”
“Finally the project re emphasised to us how beneficial it is to plan and evaluate our teaching with other colleagues and even people outside of our own school. Our group meetings throughout the project forced us to analyse what we planned to teach, how we were going to do it and how we would change our approach when teaching different students. It also gave us a forum to discuss our self evaluation of our lessons and was extremely therapeutic! This ties in with another benefit of the project; being able to start a second time with another group and look at how the changes we had made affected the learning of our students.
It was a fantastic experience and has made a real impact on our everyday teaching. We look forward to engaging with more of the Boland Trust materials.”
Aishling Ryan & Sue Soman
Want to know more?
The two researchers who were responsible for the case study are Dietmar Küchemann and Carla Finesilver , both from the Institute of Education, University of London. Contact : firstname.lastname@example.org
Aishling Ryan and Sue Somar can be contacted at St Angela’s School, Newham. Contact: email@example.com
The Bowland Trust has its own web site where more details can be found of this case studies and the others developed over the last year. www.bowlandmaths.org.uk