Sometimes it’s a challenge to inspire middle school students to answer questions. Especially in math class. After lunch. A few years ago, though, I had a hunch…

The Coolness Factor Strikes Again

For many middle school students, the rule of thumb in school is “maintain coolness at all costs.” This rule is based on my observations as a teacher, my own experience, and is also borne out by research. Middle school students want to be accepted by their peers, and if the peer group decides that enjoying academic pursuits is not cool, then it becomes taboo for that group (Zook & Russotti, 2012). It was that way when I was in middle school, and it holds true today. The coolness factor is a pretty significant thing. In fact, maintaining coolness still applies when teaching school. Teachers often try to stay in-the-know on what is cool and what is not according to their students. When I taught, my three sons were also in school, and they kept me up to speed on things, especially phrases I could and could not say to maintain my coolness points at their maximum level. For example, I knew janky and sketchy were right on schedule.

In my math class, I liked to interject cool phrases to keep my students on their toes. I did this with activities as well. However, in this particular instance, I practically stumbled on something that was both cool and effective. I don’t remember what inspired me to use walk-up music in class, except that my youngest son had made me a playlist that included dub-steppy and techno-y type songs and I wanted to somehow use it. In a class of nearly thirty students who did not love math quite as much as I, this could be a real asset to grab their attention and boost my reputation as a cool math and science nerd. This was my chance!

Cue the Learning, *ahem* Music

This is a photo of a child holding a baseball bat and soccer ball.

One thing that makes professional baseball games fun is the announcement of a new batter. The speaker doesn’t just say the batter’s name. Instead, catchy and popular music plays as the name is dramatically presented, and the batter heads to home plate, underscoring just how many coolness points this athlete has accumulated.

This was in my mind one afternoon as I was attempting to engage my students in discussing and reviewing linear functions during their post-lunch, semi-comatose state. So, I cued up a song with a great beat and imitated a baseball announcer as I chose a student to answer my question. Using my announcer’s voice, I said, “And now, stepping up to answer the next question is Taaaaaaaaaaylor!” Then I clicked play.

Taylor undoubtedly felt a little awkward, and the rest of the class wasn’t sure what I was doing. But when I introduced the second student “at bat” with a different but equally interesting-sounding song, the change in attitude and enthusiasm was palpable. Immediately, I noticed improved posture and attention around the room. By the third student’s walk-up intro, they were all mine.

The Results Are Bomb

Now students were HOPING to be called on. (How amazing is that?!) Even if a student didn’t answer correctly the first time, it was not embarrassing or stressful, because I gave them a chance to re-think and cued up a new song. This relieved some of the pressure of answering a question in front of peers. The walk-up music made answering math questions fun, engaged my students in learning, and the personalized intro totally increased the coolness factor for participating.

Sometimes a bit of novelty and creativity can turn what could be a mundane routine into pure awesomeness. #skillz

If you’d like to try it out, here’s a Spotify playlist that you can borrow for your own Walk-Up Music activity. (Don’t worry, these are lyric-free songs!) Let me know how it goes in the comments, or tweet at me @AngelaRuark.

Learn More:

Read more about transforming your math class! Math Classroom Makeover


Zook, J. M., & Russotti, J. M. (2012). Academic self-preservation strategies and popularity in middle school. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 33(6), 765-785. doi: 10.1177/0272431612467229