Warning!  Graduating Seniors, High School Teachers and Parents attending Graduations this week.  I am about to ruin one of the grandest moments of the ceremony for you.  You have been warned.  Proceed with caution.  I do promise to end this post with an end of the year challenge with a question to ponder.

First some background.  This is my mom, Mary.  All who know her will describe her as kind, organized, a connector and a documenter (she takes photos of everything and posts them to social media among other things).  This month my mother attended her 50th reunion of graduating nursing school from Swedish Hospital & Nursing School in Minneapolis.  Here is a picture of the event.  I’ve circled my mom. Well, not so much circled as put a big bright blue ellipse around her.  She is lovely.

mom at sweadish

Back in her nursing days (mid 60’s), my mom and her classmates – all women – made up lyrics to the Pomp and Circumstance song played as one enters the graduation ceremony.  During my youth my mother would sing these lyrics any time the tune came on and many times just for fun.  I heard the lyrics and tune so many times that every time  I hear the tune I can’t help but sing the words either out loud or in my head.  No matter what I do, I can’t not think about the words.  They are stuck in my head forever.  The lyrics represent the era my mother was raised and attended school in.  (seriously – can you believe these lyrics?)

  • I want to get married.
  • I want to be a wife.
  • I’m sick and tired of this nursing life.
  • Tall, dark and handsome.
  • Short, skinny or fat – even that!
  • I  want to get married and that’s all there is to that.
  • (repeat over and over and over…)

If you want to live through my child hood, click the link below and sing the above words to the pomp and circumstance tune.  I dare you.

My mom had created an EARWORM that would haunt me the rest of my life.  Little did she know that her daughter would become a teacher and attend countless graduation ceremonies where at times this tune is played for over 30 minutes as graduates march in to receive their diplomas.  Imagine the horror that is mine each year when – without being able to help it – the words to this song ramble through my head – over and 0ver and over again.  This is such an earworm that all that needs to happen is for me to hear the word ‘graduation’ and I am done.  If you can’t imagine what this would sound like, I am here to help.  Singing is not my thing, but I was encouraged by my coworker to ‘go hard’ as she filmed me today….Enjoy.

(I can not believe I just posted this video – please don’t use it against me….)

A few years back I had coworkers that had an earworm war.  They would sneak up on eachearworm definition other and sing a few words to an annoying tune.  The goal was to get songs in each other’s heads.  It was hilarious…..that is if I heard about it after it happened and not there during the actual event and the cursed innocent bystander trying to rid myself of the earworm.  Their war was also effective.  Over and over again with very little effort they could impact what each others brains were thinking about.

So why am I willing to embarrass myself in front of you? As my moms crazy lyrics have been rambling through my heads during the last week, I’ve been thinking about how I can create ‘Math Earworms’ that will not leave my student’s heads no matter what I do.  What can I do to make the math I teach stick in their heads to the point it appears randomly throughout their lives?  I am not so much thinking about making songs about math – but how I make math ‘stick’?

If you do some research on earworms you learn that our brains attach memories to songs making it difficult to forget them.  How do I do this with math?

In 2016,  the most likely earworms will come from these bands:Lady Gaga, Queen, Abba, Kylie, Beyonce, Adele, Europe, Coldplay, Elbow, Johnny Cash (at least according to some dude who researches earworms).  In 2016, how do I make quadratic equations, exponential growth, and solving equations the most popular earworms in my Advanced Algebra students minds?

Here is my challenge to you before you go home for the summer:  Ask your students what they remember most about math class this year.  Frame questions on your end of year reflections to elicit the math students most likely will not forget as they leave your classroom.  This summer reflect on what your students said.  What do you think you did in your classroom that resulted in students remembering the math they mentioned in their reflections?  How can you do more of that next year? Take some time to study what makes ideas stick.  How can you create math earworms your students will never forget in their lifetimes – even if they wanted to.

A couple of closing notes:

  • In case you are wondering, my mom married my father 5 months after graduating parentsnursing school.  They will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this fall.
  • I have enjoyed reading ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath.‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath.  Though they don’t talk about earworms – the book is a great one for teachers as we think about how we use our time with students so they leave our classrooms with meaningful math stuck in their brains.
  • The secret to lasting learning in math is connected to us allowing our students to construct knowledge or themselves and guiding them as they connect concepts (vs only flawlessly performing skills).
  • If anyone knows how I can get rid of my mom’s lyrics to pomp & circumstance – I would pay good money.
  • It is kind of fun to threaten your students (in a fun way) that if they don’t do something you will sing songs that will create EARWORMs and then proceed to sing one of these common EARWORM songs.  Enjoy.

One Extra note:

The best way to get rid of an Earworm that is annoying you is to replace it with another one.  Here is a great one to replace an annoying one with – played at a graduation as a tribute to Prince.  If you grew up in MN when I did than you will understand , you will for sure appreciate this.  At about minute 1.20 mark he goes to church.  #RIPPrince


Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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