Friends in Academic Places: Mathematics and music add up to student success

Muzology class


Muzology, the platform that blends music videos and pre-algebra for middle school students is seeing amazing breakthroughs on a national level. The Fort Worth Business Press was among the first publications to notice this emerging technology two years ago.  

Speaking to the Rotary Club of Downtown Fort Worth via Zoom on Friday, Aug. 28, founder, Lana Israel, and her business partner, Bob Doyle, shared the profound impact that music has on learning.

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“We learn our ABCs by singing, so it makes sense that music can be used to teach more complicated subjects, such as math,” said Israel, a summa cum laude Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar from the University of Oxford with a Doctorate in Experimental Psychology.

Doyle’s background is a little different, but he definitely knows how music motivates listeners – and rabid fans: He discovered and continues to manage one of the true superstars, Garth Brooks, with more than 157 million albums sold.

“Our analytics indicate that children who were previously failing math are frequently earning 100s on math quizzes and experiencing academic success, often for the first time in their lives,” said Israel, who knows analytics quite well.

So how did these two people from different worlds meet and create Muzology? Sit down on a bar stool and listen: Following Garth’s 14-year hiatus to focus on family, Doyle wanted analytics that would forecast the potential sales for a return to touring. He turned to Israel.

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“Her projections for ticket sales were remarkably accurate, down to the percent,” said Doyle. “That’s when I became a believer in Lana’s thought process and ideas.”

It wasn’t just numbers, he said.

“Lana recognizes not just the tangible elements but also the intangible factors that make big things happen. I respected her work for Garth, so I joined her in launching Muzology,” Doyle said.

Their research shows that a massive number of students throughout the United States tend to be terrified of fractions. On the other hand, they enjoy pop music. Students memorize the words to these songs and spend hours watching and dancing along to music videos. That reality led Israel and Doyle to a very logical conclusion.

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“If students enthusiastically embrace and memorize the lyrics and dance moves in music videos, they should be able to do the very same thing when singing about the Pythagorean Theorem or fractions,” said Israel.  

Muzology employs music videos that teach math skills driven by rhythmic pop music – a style students experience online and on TV.

One teacher in Little Rock described the process as “Schoolhouse Rock, but on steroids.”

The lyrics are written first along with a catchy song; Muzology works with the same music producers who create for some of today’s hottest artists – that’s Doyle’s Nashville and music industry connections. The rough draft is then submitted to experienced and credentialed math educators, who either confirm the accuracy of the lyrics or request a re-write.

 “One time a lyricist asked if she could use ‘and’ instead of ‘or’ in one of our math songs because it sounded better when sung,” said Israel. “We explained that ‘or’ was the mathematically correct way to present the material. Academic integrity always trumps aesthetic in our songs. Although, our music sounds fantastic, too!”

Among the writers and performers are GRAMMY-winning producer Andy Zulla, hit songwriter Maria Christensen (Waiting for Tonight by J-Lo) and Chris Blue, winner of The Voice.

Here’s an example, a Muzology song about fractions:

A fraction’s simplified

When you can’t divide

The numerator and denominator

By the same number on your calculator.

The National Association of School Boards named Muzology one of its top six most innovative ed-tech programs of the year in 2018 and the National Science Foundation has now awarded Muzology a competitive research grant for the second consecutive year. Muzology recently received grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education and won the Software and Information Industry Association’s 2020 Innovation Showcase.

The Muzology concept, which had captured interest from school administrators and teachers across the country this past fall, is now exploding but in a different format than its creators had intended. The growth is pandemic related.

“We had planned for schools and school districts to become our clients, so that’s where we invested the bulk of our efforts,” said Doyle. They had inked agreements with schools in seven states before COVID-19 reached the United States.

Israel adds, “When the pandemic forced educators to move to online teaching, most schools and teachers were unprepared for the change of venue. Similarly, parents had no idea how to motivate and help their children with schoolwork. Teachers and parents started searching online for solutions, and they found us.”

Teachers and parents began visiting the Muzology website and asking for more information. Recognizing the enormous impact that the program could have in supporting student learning during this challenging time, Israel and Doyle agreed to offer Muzology to teachers and parents on a sampling basis at no charge.

“It was definitely the right thing to do,” said Israel. “Our nation was desperate for a way to teach complicated math skills and we had a solution. This pandemic moved our strategy from B2B (entire schools and districts) to a B2C (Business-to-Consumer) model.”

On any given day over the past months, they have added anywhere from 30 to just under 100 new sign-ups. Whereas the vast majority of these sign-ups were from teachers during school closures last March and April, at the start of this school year there is an increasing number of sign-ups directly from parents.

Muzology now has consumers in 48 states as schools, teachers and parents eagerly embraced a way to overcome the “summer slide” – that three-month stretch when children are not in school.

Only this year, many students have experienced a six or seven-month slide.

As a result, Muzology is helping many students sing their way to more promising futures.

– FWBP Staff