top of page

Federal Funding is Building a Bridge Between Music, Math, and STEM for Students

Most high school students might never imagine they’ll learn how to code from Alicia Keys or Ciara – or be introduced to the world of STEM by Jay-Z, Common, or Pharrell. A federally-supported coding program called EarSketch is changing that. With critical funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF), EarSketch is teaching kids to create songs using coding that splices music clips from today’s top artists.


Meanwhile, Muzology – an award-winning learning platform grounded in psychology and music, is also breaking ground by engaging students in new ways as they learn math. During the pandemic the program, which uses music videos to make math more relatable and stimulate thinking, helped learners increase their math proficiency by two years while other students fell behind. These are just two examples of federally-funded innovations using the power of music to boost engagement metrics and change learning outcomes in core subjects for millions of students nationwide. 


Topping the Charts in Coding and Math

Founded at Georgia Tech in 2011, EarSketch now has more than 1.3 million users – predominantly high school students – in 180 countries. The free, guided learning program unites unique partners in its effort to engage more students in STEM education – among them, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Amazon, the federal government, Black Girls Code, organizations for the blind, celebrity musicians, and thousands of school teachers.


“EarSketch is a free Web-based learning platform where students – mostly middle and high school students – can learn to write code and make music at the same time.” said EarSketch co-founder, Jason Freeman, Professor of Music and Interim Associate Vice Provost for the Arts at Georgia Tech. The program was co-founded by Brian Magerko, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Digital Media at Georgia Tech.


“Our goals in creating EarSketch were to create an environment that provided students an immediate opportunity to make music that they liked and wanted to share with other people and that kind of spoke to their musical interests – even if they had never played a musical instrument or written a line of code before,” said Freeman. “We saw that by bringing these domains together, music and computing, there was also an opportunity to broaden interest in the field of computing more generally. To engage students in introductory computer science classes… and show them that computing was more than just abstract computation; that it had this application in a really creative and expressive domain.”


EarSketch now serves as an engagement portal into Python and JavaScript coding. By prompting more students to learn computer science, the program is “contributing to diversifying the pipeline of students in computing,” Freeman said.

EarSketch has been able to grow and keep up with the pace of student interest thanks to approximately $12.6 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.

Muzology was developed with critical funding from the Small Business Innovation Research program. They received approximately


in Phase I and Phase II SBIR grants.



Thanks to federal funding that allowed its founders to build out the program, EarSketch has been able to do something many computer science programs still struggle with – make STEM more appealing and accessible to all students, especially girls and students from historically-marginalized communities who might not see a career for themselves in STEM. EarSketch invites young learners in and encourages them to rethink their role in a field that will need them as the U.S. economy and job market grows and adapts to new technologies.


EarSketch has been able to grow and keep up with the pace of student interest thanks to approximately $12.6 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.

“We were very fortunate to get support from the National Science Foundation for a pilot grant to try this out,” Freeman said, adding that the bulk of EarSketch’s funding – more than $12.6 million from 2011 to 2023 – comes from NSF. It has received funding through several Research on Learning in Formal and Information Settings (DRL) grants, as well as from other NSF divisions and programs including the Division of Undergraduate Education, I-Corps, and the Division of Computer and Network Systems. Initially introduced at Georgia Tech summer camps and at an area high school, federal support enabled EarSketch to match the explosive “organic growth of interest in the project” that followed. 

Not far away in Nashville, another federally-funded R&D program is making inroads to harness music and improve outcomes in math education. Initially awarded approximately $225,000 in 2018 for Phase I of development and $752,000 in 2019 for Phase II in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding from the National Science Foundation, Muzology uses scientifically-designed music videos to help children in grades 4 through 8 excel in math. Featuring 15-minute lessons, math “playlists” and video programming designed by a team of music producers and learning scientists, this free program has garnered accolades from educators, government agencies, and even Billboard magazine.


Moving the Needle on STEM Interest and Proficiency 

Since it first received SBIR funding, Muzology has been able to realize significant learning gains among its users. In a state pilot in Arkansas in 2019-2020, during which the state expanded its Muzology pilot to 1,200 students across 18 schools and 8 districts, students watched more than 13,000 videos and completed over 24,000 in-platform quizzes.The average in-platform math scores improved from 50% proficiency on pre-tests (before watching a Muzology math music video) to 80% proficiency on post-tests.


“Mathematical fluency is a critical skill in a society that continues to become more technological; it also creates broader career opportunities for students and undergirds the U.S.'s national competitiveness,” said Muzology CEO and memory expert Dr. Lana Israel. 


Meanwhile, EarSketch is “moving the needle” across different age groups and different learning contexts when it comes to students’ interest in STEM as well as their persistence skills. The program has grown from implementation in one school in 2011 to use in more than 5,000 schools now. This scalability is important for getting more young people excited about pursuing careers in STEM. EarSketch offers students a fun, easy way to enter the STEM field – fostering interest, accessibility, and growth in an industry that will be a key economic driver for years to come. Recent research shows that students who engage with EarSketch persist in STEM. 


“There’s a million ways to learn how to code, but [what] if students aren’t interested in it?” Freeman notes. “This curriculum makes kids realize coding isn’t something they have to do, it's something they want to do.”


By investing in projects like EarSketch and Muzology, the federal government is investing in future generations of Americans and the workforce. New tools and technologies are being worked on across the country, but without proper support and funding, these innovations will not be fully developed and brought to scale. EarSketch and Muzology demonstrate the astounding impact new technologies and approaches can have on student learning and engagement. 


Image courtesy of Georgia Tech

bottom of page