Thematically, rap and hip hop fall into the category of things I want my to daughter to discover later in life. I would rather she be vaguely aware of reproductive mechanisms and the (bad) side effects of using illicit substances before she encounters Jay-Z and co.
However, like most things on my parenting wishlist, this is out of my control. And if she does discover rap at an early age, I hope it’s through her math teachers.
Apparently using rap to teach maths is old news – not as old as me, from memory my teachers never broke out into rhyme. However, it follows the concept that repetition and rhyme can help with memorization, which will help with learning.
It’s also a way for the teachers to relate to their students. In 2015, a study by Michigan State University found that teachers who look for a connection with their students are more likely to break through to them.
“This study suggested that outside pursuits factor into how creative teachers think about their classrooms because teachers tend to “teach who they are.” They see connections between their interests in anything from rap music to cooking or travel, to school subject matters like math or language arts, and find interesting ways to teach and develop creative lessons out of these,” the authors wrote.
So without further ado here are some math teacher rap superstars:
1) Sixth-grade math teacher Robert McCarthy doesn’t rap but encourages his classroom to do so. Mr. Mac, as he is dubbed by the school, calls on his students to write rhymes about tricky math concepts and produces gems like “Integer Eyes” and “Math Hustla.” They love it, and ultimately they love math.
“Being a math teacher isn’t really about just teaching math curriculum,” MacCarthy explains. “It’s about teaching to the whole student [and letting them] have a chance to voice their opinions and tell their story about what’s happening in their lives. They like the game called education when you can put some fun into it and put your heart behind your lessons.”
See his enamored students here:
2) Jake Scott, teaches high school math and drops the occasional beat during his lessons. He has recorded tunes like “Triangle Experts” and “Quadratic Formulaic.”
“I use rap because it is something that appeals to the students, also because music aids with memory,” Scott explains. “So, if I can come up with rap and organize it and present it to the students, then that’s helping get the student to memorize it.”
Recently he has been helping immigrants grasp maths through rap, helping them with their English at the same time.
“When they come here, their language skills are not up to par. So they are often placed on a remedial level which is very low. Some of the students get discouraged and dropout,” he states.
A student from Burkina Faso was particularly grateful for the Quadratic Formulaic rap, in which she had appeared. “Before the video, I didn’t remember the quadratic formula. But right after he made the video and I listened to it once, I did remember everything,” she says. “It is stuck in my head. It is kind of fun at the same time.”
Check out the video to Quadratic Formulaic here.
3) Mr. Duey looks like the typical young dad in a sitcom, but when he starts rapping about fractions, his voice and appearance don’t quite align.
Rap has always been a hobby of the Michigan-based teacher, and he brought it into the classroom during his student teaching days.
“I gave them each a CD with my “Measurement” song that I created for them to listen to after school. I was surprised that all my students had “aced” the test. My wife said she liked the idea and thought it would be great to write songs for the grade she was teaching which was seventh grade. I then wrote and produced my full-length album, “Class Dis-Missed” for students in grades fifth-eighth covering all four main subject areas,” he said.
Checkout Mr. Duey’s best-known song “Fractions” here.
4) Alex Kajitani was the 2009 California Teacher of the Year; he has also been a finalist for National Teacher of the Year, but he is best known as ‘The Rappin’ Mathematician.
Kajitani wanted to make math cool and choose rap as his chosen medium after watching the way children knew the words to new songs within days but had a case of temporary amnesia following his lessons. It worked.
“The true key to education is to stop taking our curriculum and forcing it into our students’ lives and, instead, take our students’ lives and fit it into the curriculum,” said Kajitani.
“Could we take standards-based mathematics curriculum and, instead of taking two days to teach a maths concept, how about taking two minutes by showing it to our kids in the form of a rap song?”
Kajitani has spoken about his teaching adventures and successful attempts to make math cool at TEDX.
See one of Kajitani’s most popular raps, So many Lines here.
Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one. She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.