28Mar
2014

Music & Math – What is the connection?

The difference in math scores between students who receive traditional Montessori instruction and students who receive music enriched Montessori instruction. – Maureen Harris

Montessori educators and parents are pondering the kind of education our children need to become responsible and productive members of a global society. In order to create the kind of futuristic thinking necessary to cope with our ever-changing world, higher order thinking processes deserve attention now. An arts-rich curriculum can provide a vehicle for self-expression, self-understanding, self-confidence, creative problem solving and motivation (Pitman, 1998).

Researchers have found the arts (music most commonly) to have a positive impact on reading, math, writing, self-esteem, and brain development. The music-math connection in particular keeps coming up over and over again. Children who take music lessons score up to 35% higher on spatial tasks (Rauscher, Shaw, 1997). Attending a Montessori program from the approximate ages of three to eleven predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school (Gartner, A., Kerzner-Lipsky, D., 2002).If research indicates that learning through the arts can benefit the ‘whole’ child, and academic achievement scores are significantly higher for those students studying music, and if Montessori education produces a more academically accomplished child (Clifford & Takacs, 1991), then what is the potential for the child when Montessori includes an enriched music curriculum?

We now have the answer! A research study through the University of Windsor with 200 students who attend The Children’s House Montessori, LaSalle Montessori, Montessori Academy of Windsor all in Ontario, Canada examined the differences in math scores between Casa students who received traditional Montessori instruction and those who received music-enriched Montessori instruction. The core question being: “is the ability to learn ‘anything’ enhanced when music, rhythm and movement are added and the child is engaged” (i.e. wholly involved, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially). The researcher, an experienced Montessori teacher and music specialist, used the Test of Early Mathematics Ability 3 (TEMA-3) assessment for this study (Ginsburg & Baroody, 1998), which measures mathematical achievement. All schools were established Montessori programs that met recognized affiliation standards (Boehnlein, 1988). The children in the study were divided into two groups, experimental and control. The experimental group received music-enriched Montessori instruction and the control group received traditional Montessori instruction. Children in both groups were post-tested on the TEMA – 3. The children ranged in ages 3 to 5 years.

Table 1 presents a crosstabulation of their ages by group membership.

Table 1

The largest group of students (n=73, 38.4%) were three years of age. This number included 38 (38.8%) in the experimental group and 35 (38.0%) in the control group. Of the 61 (32.1%) children who were four years of age, 30 (30.6%) were in the experimental group and 31 (33.7%) were in the control group. Among the 56 (29.5%) children who were five years of age at the time of the study, 30 (30.6%) were in the experimental group and 26 (28.3%) were in the control group.

The experimental group received a treatment of 6 months instruction in music and then both groups were post-tested. The post-test scores of both groups were then compared. The experimental treatment was an “in-house”‘ music-enriched Montessori program designed from appropriate early childhood educational perspectives and based on Kodaly techniques. The program was sequenced to teach concepts of pitch, dynamics, duration, timbre and form as well as skills in moving, playing, listening, singing and organizing sound. Children participated in 3 half-hour sessions weekly. The comparison group received traditional Montessori instruction during this period.

The students in the experimental group (m = 142.58, sd = 3.52) had significantly higher mathematics achievement outcomes than students in the control group (m = 118.30, sd = 12.52). Based on this finding, it appears that students who received music enriched Montessori instruction had higher levels of mathematics achievement than students who received traditional Montessori instruction, see Table 2.

Table 2

Based on these findings it appears that students who received music-enriched Montessori instruction had higher levels of mathematics achievement than students who received traditional Montessori instruction. When compared by age group, 3-year old students had higher scores than either the 4-year old, or 5-year old children. These findings indicate that 3- year old students had higher mathematics achievement than children in the other two age groups. Suggested follow-up research – a longitudinal 3-year study following the progress of the 3-year old students and testing them again at 4 years and 5 years to see what is the consistent positive effect of enriched music instruction on these students’ math ability scores. This study offers quantitative results that could help Montessori and early childhood educators recognize the value of music-enriched instruction for the young child, and implementing the instructional designs used in this study could lead to higher levels of student achievement. Further findings indicated that the Montessori students performed in the percentile range for mathematics, based on the norms established for preschool children (Ginsburg & Barody, 2000). The scores of the children who received the music-enriched Montessori instruction were in the 90th to 99th percentiles, indicating their mathematics achievement were substantially above the anticipated norms.

Montessori education continues to grow during a never-ending search to improve. The extensive research shows the improved academic achievement levels of children studying music, and the positive long-term benefits of Montessori education on academic achievements levels of students, and this new 6-month study shows the positive impact of enriched music instruction on the math achievement of the Montessori child. As we face the challenges of the future, Maria Montessori’s belief in the development of the human potential through leadership in education will evolve. Perhaps this is truly the time to embrace a music-enriched Montessori education that serves as a model for all the Montessori classrooms globally.

The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. – M. Montessori

Bibliography:

Arnoff, F. W. (1988). Reaching the Young Child Through Music: Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences as Model. International Journal of Music Education, 12:18-22.
Boehnlein, M (1998) Montessori Research Analysis in Reptrospect. N.A.M.T.A. Journal.
Burton, J.M., Horowitz, R., Abeles, H. (2000). Learning in and through the arts: The question of transfer. Studies in Art Education, 41 (3), 228-257.
Catterall, (1998). Does experience in the arts boost academic achievement? Art Education, 51 (3), 6-11.
Ginsburg, Baroody, (1990). Test of Early Math ability .
Pitman, W. (1998). Learning the arts in an age of uncertainty. Toronto: Arts Education Council of Ontario.