As Ryan posted today, thanks to Weird Al, it’s been a great week for nerds lying at the intersection of music and education. To commemorate, here are five of my favorite all time educational songs of a humorous bent:
5. Tom Lehrer: New Math. Lehrer’s song mocking the difficulty of New Math’s approach towards subtraction in different base systems is itself actually a really great introduction to how to think and do math in base 8. It was certainly my gateway to the topic as a kid, and I still use it in my classroom today. (I’m afraid you’ll have to scroll down a ways to move past this lovely, hand-tooled ad to our left… )
4. They Might Be Giants: James K. Polk: There are so many TMBG songs one could post, really. The Sun. Conifers. Meet James Ensor. The Edison Museum. But this one is my favorite as it does what every great novelty educational song should do: takes a topic most are loathe to approach on their own (in this case presidential politics between the Jackson and Lincoln eras) and makes it something unforgettable.
3. The Klein Four: Finite Simple Group of Order Two: This isn’t so much a song to learn new things from as to enjoy once you have learned a good many things. It is mainly a love song which pulls entirely yet amazingly aptly from the vocabulary of topology, set theory, and analysis. Educationally, if you listen to it enough, you get comfortable with a good many terms that you’ll run into repeatedly in your prospective career as a mathematician. “But lately our relation’s not so well defined,” is a line worthy of immortality.
2. Weird Al Yankovic: My Pancreas: A Beach Boys-style medley devoted to a really quite useful introduction to the structure, function, and primary hormones of the pancreas!
1. Flanders and Swann: The First and Second Law: For my students, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is an easy sell, but the First is one which they don’t quite believe says what it in fact says, so I often have recourse to this wonderful, wonderful song to lay it all out.