Science: Get Jiggy Wit It!

Peter Doherty (no, not that Babyshambles creature, but the Nobel Laureate) laments the use of pop music to teach science in the Australian school system. That and other mushy encroachments in the Queensland science curriculum, as reported in Pop songs are weird science would make it appear that like the US, science education in Oz is going to hell in a relativistic handbasket. Or is it? Is the use of song in science that egregious?

According to many primary and secondary school science educators, it's challenging to grasp the imagination of young students. If they haven't been "grabbed" by science before high school, it's often a lost cause. Sciencey songs in elementary school can be fun. They Might Be Giants comes to mind as a source for quirky and accessible-to-kids science-flavored ditties.

Although there are plenty of science flavored songs swimming around out there, check out Jef Poskanzer's excellent collection of science songs from the late 1950's/early 1060's. Jef unearthed the 6 LP set from his parents' basement, and has encoded them in MP3 format. Such hits as the "Ballad of Sir Isaac Newton," "Kinetic and Potential Energy" (I really like this one), and "Eohippus" may be found on Jef's Singing Science web page. The songs are charming, hilarious, and exude the wide-eyed wonder of Atomic Age science. They're a darned sight better than grafting such forced lyrics as "Glucose, ah sugar sugar," (Greg Crowther of the University of Washington) sings. "You are my favorite fuel from the bloodborne substrate pool / Glucose -- monosaccharide sugar -- you're sweeter than a woman's kiss / 'cause I need you for glycolysis." onto the already loathsome "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies (see Pop goes the science song).

I can understand Dr. Doherty's consternation over the removal of math (or maths for you folks of the Empire) from the science curriculum and substitution with analysis of earnestly overwrought lyrics from Midnight Oil, but c'mon, let's lighten up a little. Gather round, kids, and let's sing "How Does a Cow Make Milk?"

How does a cow make milk, I wonder?

How does a cow make milk?

Every cow has a milky way,

And right now I'm prepared to say...

A cow has glands and all those glands

Are chemical factories.

Busily manufacturing lots of things she needs.

She chews the grass and chews the grass

Then swallows down her cud.

The glands make juice that help produce muscle, bone and blood.

And when the little calf is born to help the happy mother,

A certtain gland gets active and that gland is called the udder.

The udder manufactures milk and when the calf is born,

Squirt! Squirt!

The little squirt turns the faucets on.

And when the calf is through with his

We get all the milk there is.

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MC Hawking's lyrics may be a little, erm, raw, but I'd love to hear them in science classes. From "Entropy" to the ever-popular "F*ck the Creationists", he offers everything a growing mind needs! ;)

Oh, man, yes! MC Hawking is da bomb. My son (freshman in college) turned me on to his stylin's.

My 4 year old sings several TMBG songs including "Why does the sun shine?". I have no problem with her learning that way. When she sings the first line (the sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace, where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees) half the adults she encounters stand slack-jawed because she is spewing out facts that they don't know. True, it may not be in depth knowledge, but it provides a framework for that depth later. If you want to turn someone off learning, just spew out a bunch of stuff they don't have any familiarity with and watch their eyes roll back.

After all, who didn't like Schoolhouse Rock? Conjunction junction...

SFS, I completely agree, re: music as a way to engage kids with science. My children, now teenagers, loved TMBG. My son (a freshman in college and a biochem major) still collects their latest works.