Singing Sisters Marry Music and Math
Let me tell you a secret.
It makes life real nice.
Oh you can use this trick to find
The angles or the sides.
And all you need is two things
To set it up, you see.
You can use our equation to
Find the missing thing.
You might think I'm nerdy,
A little too hard core,
But in the class, doin' trig
I'm gettin' A's much more.
[verse 2 of The SOHCAHTOA Song - sung to the tune of Redneck Woman]
Math has become a toe-tapping experience for some students in Rockingham County, particularly those in Emily and Amanda Fagan's math classes at Broadway High School and Wilbur S. Pence Middle School. Genetics would appear to dictate this. To these sisters, daughters of Gary and Phyllis Fagan who are both music teachers at Henley Middle School in Albemarle County, bringing music into their math classrooms seems the natural thing to do. So, they write lyrics and compose their own songs as well as sing verses found on the web written by others to help their students remember key mathematical concepts.
The Parallelogram Song (words and vocals by Emily and Amanda Fagan)
And it works - works well, according to Amanda, a third year teacher, who admits that at first the experience is a little odd for her Pence Middle School students. "It takes a while to get the students involved. The first time I sing in class they look at me like I'm crazy. By the end of the year almost all of them are singing with me. I usually have at least one outgoing student who will get really into it and the rest of the kids will follow. I know they sing while they do their homework because I have had some parents see me in town and tell me that their kids have taught them the songs."
Necessity is the mother of invention for Emily and Amanda's strategies. Emily, a 9-year veteran who teaches Geometry to her BHS students, explains how she began to use music with her students, "I think The Parallelogram Song was the first one I wrote because my students had a hard time remembering the properties of a parallelogram. It just seemed like the thing to do to help. I'm always using tricks like mnemonic devices etc., so songs were just another method to help them remember."
Amanda adds that she draws from personal experience in using this technique to help her students, "When I was in college, the only way I could remember the quadratic formula was by singing The Quadratic Formula Song which I think I learned in high school. I figured that since it was a good memory tool for me, it might work well for my students. I thought creating more math songs for my classes would be something fun for the kids and would really help them to remember key concepts. Now when I call on kids to answer in class they often answer me in song!" And, she adds that some of her students now will write their own jingles.
Their repertoire now consists of nearly 20 songs, 12 of which the Fagan sisters have written themselves. So, they marry their two passions of math and music and offer a unique and successful learning strategy to their students. And all have fun in the process!
Thanks to Emily and Amanda for providing the following songs for classroom use. Non-singing math teachers everywhere appreciate and thank them for their efforts and willingness to share their work!
Songs that Emily and Amanda wrote (Right-click or CTRL-click to download in MP3 format):
• In My Equation
• The SOHCAHTOA Song
• The Conditional Statements Song
• The Distance Formula Song
• The Circle Song About Angles
• The Circle Song About Segments
• The Parallelogram Song
• The Midpoint Formula Song
• The Conic Sections Song
• The Central Tendency Song
• The Slope Song
• The Quadratic Formula Song
• The Point Slope Song (written by one of Amanda’s students)
And many thanks to Dane Camp (New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois) and John A. Carter (Community H.S. District 94 in West Chicago, Illinois) for granting Emily and Amanda permission to use their lyrics in performing the following songs:
Download lyrics to all songs in PDF format.