Singing for the brain


POSTED: Monday, June 15, 2009

Swine flu has some people panic-stricken and running around in search of face masks, but Jennifer Fixman and her first-grade students at Waialua Elementary School are putting common sense to use in allaying the fears.

Fixman, also known as “;Miss Jenny,”; created a song called “;Wash Your Hands”; to spread the word on one of the easiest ways to stay safe and healthy.

“;We can help people wash their hands so they don't spread diseases,”; said one of her first-graders, Shawn Martin.

“;The 'Wash Your Hands' song can help people not get the swine flu,”; added Shaydon Pascual, another student. Although swine flu hasn't been discussed in the classroom, the children are still aware of the disease because they hear things through the media or from concerned family members, Fixman said.

“;I've been watching the news and wanted to help the kids in my classroom protect themselves,”; she added. The “;Wash Your Hands”; video, song and lyrics can be downloaded free at http://www.edutunes.com.

This is not the first time Fixman has been inspired to write a song. She's been writing educational tunes for more than a decade with the idea that our brains are wired to learn and hold onto words through song. Just think of song and TV show lyrics or ad jingles you still remember from 10 or 30 years ago.

Fixman created a music curriculum for various subjects including math, phonics, health, science and history. Originally, the songs were created as a means to enhance her own teaching, but through the Internet she found a wider audience.

“;I never imagined that other people would be using them,”; she said. As the president and founder of Edutunes, she has created more than 200 songs and combined them into eight products. The programs are geared toward children in preschool through third grade, she said.

Her musical journey began after she attended a seminar during which the speaker explained that children learn more, retain more and gain a love of learning through songs.

“;I was so inspired that I began writing songs about all the things I wanted to teach,”; she said.

When children learn through song, they are using all of the major parts of the brain, she explained.

Research has shown that children gain phonemic awareness, master tough phonics concepts and develop the skills they need to read independently through singing songs.

“;Music runs through our minds so the information stays. We all remember the 'ABC' song or other songs from childhood,”; she said. Another plus: “;It's a really fun way to teach.”;

“;I Brush My Teeth”; was another song that was a classroom favorite. “;The brushing-your-teeth song can help everyone so they don't get cavities,”; Shawn said.

Sophie Sagaysay chose another track as her personal favorite from Fixman's “;Making a Difference”; CD. “;The song 'World Peace' will help stop wars,”; she said.

“;Persevere”; (also on the 'Making a Difference' CD) tells you that you can do anything you set your mind to,”; said another student, Janai Medrano.

Another student, Mia Yanase, appreciated the “;Stand Up for Your Beliefs”; song. “;It talks about a lot of people like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Black people couldn't sit in the front of the bus, and that made me sad,”; she said.

Mia Molinaro, a kindergarten teacher at Kainalu Elementary School in Kailua, has been using Fixman's CDs in her classroom for the past 10 years.

“;I find younger kids learn well through music. They don't read yet, but listening to songs reinforces what I'm teaching,”; she said. “;Once they have a whole song down, they don't realize that they have learned the whole life cycle of a butterfly through a song.”;

Last year, Molinaro provided her incoming kindergarten students with some of Miss Jenny's CDs. “;On the first day of school, they already knew the songs. They were one step ahead,”; she said. “;The songs integrate all of the subject areas. It ties everything together.”;

The musical lesson programs from Edutunes have been polished through feedback from customers and other research, Fixman said. She plans to take it a step further and work on research at the university level.

Jonathan Schwartz, assistant professor of elementary education at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu, confirmed that he is working with Fixman to conduct research on the efficacy of using songs as a part of the curriculum in the classroom.

“;Everyone has a different way of learning,”; he said. The idea is to target specific student's strengths. “;It's a teacher's job to reach every student in the classroom. Not everyone learns in a traditional manner. We are looking at a multisensory approach to learning.”;

Fixman agrees that the songs, combined with reading the words at the same time and incorporating movements, helps various children pick up concepts more readily.

“;Teaching was the best way for me to make a difference in the world,”; said Fixman.

The songs just provide her with a broader audience.