Imagine Weird Al writing educational folk songs and you'll have an idea what you're getting with the Lyrical Learning series. All the songs are old-fashioned folk/bluegrass melodies played on traditional instruments with lyrics that describe and explain various science facts. For instance, the "Scientific Method" song (which describes the scientific method and its processes) is set to the tune of "Dixie." The music is all performed by Bobby Horton, who has composed and arranged the music for several Ken Burns PBS documentaries, including The Civil War. If this all sounds really bizarre, it is. But it's also fun, and your whole family might even take an interest in science after listening to these songs (albeit probably for different reasons).
This is an actual curriculum, not just a supplement. The odd-ball (or at least non-traditional) nature of its approach might make it seem like it, but there is enough content to make it a primary source. At the same time, supplementary material can't hurt, and hands-on activities and field trips would make good additions to the course.
The CD is not the only element—there is also a textbook and workbook for each level (or "volume" as the publisher calls it). While the authors identify themselves as creationists on their website, there is no origin-related content in any of the books or CDs; content is limited to science "fact", what can be observed and measured.
How Do These Work?
One of the best aspects about how these work is that they don't seem like work. Students are not required to sit with a boring textbook on their knees and toil laboriously through rote memorization of bland science facts. They can sing their science lesson, and what kid (or adult) doesn't love to sing (except for the moody adolescent)? Especially goofy songs that will annoy their parents and older siblings. . . Of course, adults will probably enjoy a lot of the songs as well due to the sheer ridiculousness (and because they will recognize a lot of the melodies).
There are three volumes dealing with life science and one covering earth science (presumably more to follow). Each "volume" consists of a 90-page textbook, a workbook, and a CD. The textbook contains in-depth information concerning the material covered in the songs, as well as line drawings, song lyrics, and guitar tabs so you can play the songs yourself. The workbook is a standard consumable worktext helping students cement their knowledge by requiring them to recall it. The CD contains the songs.
Creator/author Doug Eldon, a science teacher, came up with the idea of putting information to song while humming in the shower (seriously!). His theory is that easily remembered songs stick with us. If we can remember catchy commercial jingles for years, why not use that ability to teach science? While this approach probably loses its relevancy at some stage of the learning process (can you imagine a college biology prof singing his lessons?), on younger kids it is an undeniably potent way for them to internalize information. It also makes them think of science as fun and interesting, and that is one of the main goals of education.
Our Honest Opinion:
Singing is a good thing, especially if you can learn at the same time. Goofy singing is a really good thing, as long as you don't get too much of it (which could be a real danger here—your kids might want to listen to the songs all the time). The content in the texts combined with the songs will probably do more to help your kids memorize (and be ready for more advanced science study) then curricula that rely primarily on text to impart information.
The main drawback here is the incompleteness of the course. There are three life science volumes and one on earth science, not enough to count as a comprehensive science course, even for younger students. Using this program would mean switching to it from another curriculum, or at least switching to another after using Lyrical Learning.
Okay, there is one other drawback. The moody adolescent we spoke of earlier (the one with a frowny face and no joy in his youthful soul) is the person this series is primarily geared to. Little kids will love singing these songs full-throttle, parents will love laughing at their kids singing these songs (and throwing things at them when the singing has gone on long enough), but the sullen and angsty teenager who's supposed to be the one learning about molecules and stuff will be cowering in the corner as his family ably proves how un-cool they are. Of course there are adolescents who will enjoy this series, but there are plenty who would rather eat dirt.
You don't need to worry about your kids getting a bunch of evolutionary worldview in this course, and you can rest assured they will actually learn, not just learn a bunch of frighteningly catchy tunes. This series could be a good way to get students turned on to science, especially reluctant students, but it can also be useful for students who study well and/or like science. Don't let the novelty scare you—this is a good solid course, and kids can learn a lot from its varied approach.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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