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Music Prof Makes Music Count

Greher Joins National Initiative to Link Music, Math and Science Ed

Gena Greher stands with Herbie Hancock
The MathMusicScience.org launch in Washington, D.C., included, from left, Eric Rosenbaum, MIT Media Lab; Jeanne Bamberger, MIT Media Lab/UC Berkeley; Sue Corey, San Francisco State; Herbie Hancock; Gena Greher; Vijay Iyer, Harvard; Rajna Swaminathan, Harvard; and Sven Osttveit, UNESCO.

05/10/2016
By David Perry

Gena Greher has always believed music is valuable in teaching other core subjects. She is in good company.

The music education professor found herself in Washington, D.C. recently, among a cast that included jazz legend Herbie Hancock, to officially launch the MathMusicScience.org, a project that offers educators a variety of web-based tools and programs to help them use music to teach math and science.

In a “whirlwind” 24-hour trip, Greher joined U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., U.N. Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) Representative Sven Osttveit and music education experts from University of California San Francisco, MIT, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Alex Ruthmann, the former UMass Lowell professor now at New York University’s Steinhardt school, to unveil the initiative.

Mathmusicscience.org is a collection of eight separate programs that use music to teach the concepts of science and math to students in kindergarten through grade 12.  The programs were commissioned by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in conjunction with UNESCO.

Greher collaborated with Jeanne Bamberger of MIT and University of California Berkeley, to develop “Making Music Count,” a program that aims to teach concepts of proportion, ratio, fractions and common multiples through music.  Students use the Impromptu programming language (a tool designed for composers and artists), to listen to music and “hear the math,” according to MathMusicScience.org.  

Greher says Making Music Count is loaded with UMass Lowell talent. Graduating Music Business major students Nicholas Quigley (lead web developer), Music Education graduate student Christopher Jackson and junior in Music Education Nicole Vasconcelos (video editors) and Music Education graduate Holly Johnson (featured in the introductory video) all contributed.

Bamberger, whom Greher described as a “pioneer in music cognition research with kids,” contacted Greher last August. The two had previously worked together.

“Two weeks later,” said Greher,  “Herbie Hancock was in Cambridge and we met with him for five hours to talk about the program.”

Greher knew Making Music Count would be useless without teacher “buy in.”  So she worked to get teachers “comfortable with the concepts and technology” being proposed. She stressed the real-world application of math concepts, and teachers noted the program, “would be ideal for students who have different learning styles,” according to Greher. 

“Overall, they were very positive about the idea of what we’re trying to do. And they felt it aligned perfectly with the common core goals for that age group. If the teachers aren’t hooked, it’s not going to work with the kids.”

Technology students from an MIT music tech design class, math colleagues at UMass Lowell and math and technology teachers in northeastern Massachusetts reviewed Making Music Count, said Greher.

“Every student who tried Making Music Count praised the math/music relationship,” says Greher. “You put a program like that before the kids, they’ll play with it.”

The gathering in Washington, held at the U.S. Department of Education headquarters, was to showcase the programs that integrate music to teach core subjects concepts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Like Education Secretary John B. King, Greher believes there’s no reason to diminish arts education in the face of renewed pushes in math and reading.  

In addition to web site launch and a panel discussion with Hancock while she was in Washington, D.C., Greher recorded interviews for a video and podcast.

Meeting with Hancock was “awesome,” she says.

“He's a brilliant musician who cares deeply about education.”