Notes From Author's Journal
Candid Note From The Author's Journal . . . For a struggling musician in search
of fame and fortune, substitute teaching seemed to be an ideal way to supplement
one's income while doing meaningful work. That was good enough for me, so I no
sooner found myself teaching middle school students in Daly City, California,
when it happened. I was confronted with the ultimately uncontrollable classroom.
With about one week of classroom experience under my belt and zero teacher training,
I thought to myself, what on earth can I do to deal with this? What would possibly
get through to these kids? Hmm . . . music seems to be one thing most kids relate
to, so what the heck; I ran home at lunch and got my programmable drum machine
and decided to wing it--to try to make some mathematical sense out of something
that was already a big part of their world.
motivation to combine math and music on that fateful day in Daly City was born
out of sheer desperation--just an inexperienced substitute teacher trying to find
any way possible to pacify a rebellious group of middle school students. The logic
was simple. I thought to myself, an alarming number of students view math as dull,
difficult, and boring--something to be avoided at all costs. Many of the same
students remain glued to their CD players for hours each day. They hold music
as their greatest ally, as the ultimate expression of their identity. Amidst all
of this, my own experience as a musician and mathematician has shown me how the
language of music is deeply rooted in mathematics. The connection is so glaringly
obvious, why don't teachers use it? In my eyes at that point, music appeared to
be a "silver bullet" for reaching kids in mathematics.
the years that followed, a commitment to the teaching profession, graduate school,
designing curriculum, and teaching high school math, the music/math connection
remained a persistent theme. I was determined to realize the vision I had in that
classroom in Daly City; to help kids understand mathematics through music. Each
step of the way it has become more apparent that the music/math connection offers
far more educational value than merely entertaining or pacifying kids. Access
to deep understanding, inspiration, motivation, improved math self esteem, meaning,
relevance, and motivation are all benefits my students have enjoyed through these
this book is in some respects an arrival point, a culmination of years of work,
thought and research. But it is also a beginning. Each of the activities presented
here opens the door to an integration point that could be the subject of an entire
unit in itself. In Functional Melodies, the surface of the math/music connection
is barely being scratched. Care has been taken to make this connection open to
nonmusicians, both teacher and student alike. Indeed, non musicians have much
to gain from a musical point of view. Each activity provides fertile ground for
further exploration and development.
is probably safe to say that there exists no "silver bullet" that can unlock the
mysteries of math for kids, but there does exist a vast untapped reservoir of
unique vantage points, contexts and ways of thinking that can be utilized to open
the math experience to more people. I became a math teacher because I believe
that too many students' are deprived of a balanced math education. Too much of
what I love about mathematics is left untouched. Rarely is students' thinking
pushed to wonder about the role of math in the larger context of nature, culture,
and philosophy. Too often the experience of math is the memory of rote calculations.
Too often content knowledge is disconnected from its context and disected into
discreet packages for educational convenience, sterilized to the point of irrelevance.
In this state of affairs it is no wonder that the entire school can begin to look
irrelevant to kids.
I hope these activities can help to expand the way you think about
teaching and learning math in your classroom, to challenge and push
your concepts of what it is about mathematics that you love, and what
it is about math that we would like our students to wonder about.