Walk-Up Songs in Class

My old friend from my high school/hacking days, T.J. Connelly, has one of the best jobs in the world. He is the D.J. for the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, and (as of this year) the Boston Bruins. He chooses the soundtrack for each game, playing just the right song or song excerpt for that double play, that fumble, that hat trick. ar-170529350He chooses everything – except for a few givens (Sweet Caroline and Dirty Water come to mind), and the walk-on music for each of the Red Sox batters. I even got to go and catch up with him last summer on a trip to Boston, where we got to see where he watches the game, does magic with his laptop, and coordinates with Josh Kantor, the organist, to provide the soundtrack for a night in Fenway Park.

Here I am with my family, in T.J.’s office overlooking home plate after the Red Sox game.

It was after that visit, and after reading some tweets and blog posts and having some conversations with Matt Vaudrey and Ed Campos, Jr. that I decided to incorporate walk-up songs in my classroom. (Plus, it meant I could justify paying for a streaming music account. I happen to use Spotify, but if you use another streaming service (Pandora, iTunes/Apple Music, etc.), any of them should work.) This small change ended up being one of the simplest best ways I’ve found to connect with and engage with almost every student.

At the beginning of the year, while I had students writing their mathographies, I had students fill out a form in which they submitted their walk-up song request. It had to be school appropriate, and I needed to be able to find it on Spotify. Once they chose their songs, I created a class playlist for each period. Then, any time I wanted students to share what they had been working on, I would randomize the playlist and play whatever song came next. When a student hears their song, that’s their cue to go up to the board and start contributing with their solution, thoughts, or whatever they chose to add. There have been a few observations I’ve made. Students get noticeably excited when their song plays – it’s a little contribution, by them, to the whole class, that has nothing to do with math. Some students will start dancing their way up, or singing their way to the board. They are more likely to take a chance and put something up to show their thinking, and even more likely to show more work (because they get to hear more of their song). Sometimes, with longer problems or situations, one student’s song will end, and the next one begins, and there’s an exchange, a natural and organic collaboration, taking place. A few times during the year, I’ll allow students to change their song (or add a song, which doubles their chances of going to the board). I even had one of my Pre-Calculus students last year try to add 5 songs so he could dominate the class. I did have to deny that request, but loved the enthusiasm.

It’s true that some students will not want to choose a song, which gives me free reign to pick a song for them – usually by my favorite band. But the students who do choose songs are telling me, and the rest of the class, a little bit about themselves. I got quite a range: BTS, ELO, Macklemore, Billie Eilish, Van Halen, ABBA, the Kinks, Beethoven, Newsies, and more. There was an incredible variety of genres, and I heard some new music that I had to check out. In fact, one of my students’ love of BTS gave me a way to connect with the incredible Rafranz Davis, an amazing educator and passionate fan. She loves BTS as much as I love Marillion, if you can believe it.

If you’d like to get a glimpse into my students’ taste in music, check out these Spotify playlists!

Period 1 Geometry

Period 2 Algebra 1

Period 4 Algebra 1

Period 5 Geometry

Period 6 Geometry

Period 7 Pre-Calculus

Finding a way to incorporate music can be an incredible way to bond with your students and create a class culture that is meaningful, welcoming, and comforting for all. Oh, and fun. Did I mention it’s fun?

A few other side notes:

  • Random playlists may be truly random, or they may be pseudo-random. Truly random could (and likely will) have some repeats, and will not have a completely even distribution. This can be a nice mathematical discussion to have with students. Apple addressed this long ago in iTunes.
  • Sometimes, when a student or student group has something really interesting on paper, I’ll purposefully play a song from that student/group. Sometimes I tell them, sometimes I don’t. I’ve also been know to play Bohemian Rhapsody a second time from the beginning, since it’s so epic.
  • There are times when a student is just having an off day. If their song plays, I’ll often check in with them, and sometimes will skip the song if they just aren’t up for it. Just because this is intended to be fun doesn’t mean it necessarily will be fun for everyone. I created these playlists to build connection and community, so doing things that damage connections and community is counterproductive, and not worth the stress. Following up later can sometimes help, too.
  • Marillion is playing Royal Albert Hall in London for two nights in November.
    “We’re melting our guns as a show of strength”

    Who wants to buy me tickets to go? (Monday the 18th is already sold out, but there are still tickets for Tuesday the 19th. I may also need airfare, a hotel, and a sub.)

  • The featured image is from an ABC News feature on the history of walk-up music in baseball. I couldn’t find the artist name to attribute it, but would gladly do so if someone knows.

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