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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Rapping Math Teachers Bring It

Students get schooled in math lessons put to a hip-hop beat.
Malaika Costello-Dougherty
Former senior editor at Edutopia.

The math rap will get stuck in your head: "Fractions, fractions, lights camera action." And your students will laugh as they learn from Mr. Duey, the rapping math teacher from Michigan who's posted his lesson to the video-sharing site TeacherTube.com.

Daniel Joseph Duey is now in his second year of full-time teaching at Adams Middle School, in Westland, Michigan. In the past year and a half, his video Fractions (below) has been shown in math classes throughout the country. And teachers on TeacherTube say they've used the video to introduce a lesson, engage inner-city students who prefer music to math, and show students how to calculate their grades on an assignment.




When these teachers play rap videos like Fractions in class, they find that students can quickly grasp complicated concepts: The repetition and rhyme help with memorization, and students connect with the lesson. Duey, whose video has racked up more than 580,000 views on TeacherTube, is spreading this teaching tool while also gaining recognition: Class Dis-Missed has sold about 9,000 copies, and he has a fan club.

Duey is a former professional rapper, but Alex Kajitani (known as the Rappin' Mathematician) approached rapping from the opposite direction: The eighth-grade algebra teacher started doing it as a survival technique.

"It's one of the most poverty-stricken areas in all of California," Kajitani says of the neighborhood surrounding Mission Middle School, in Escondido, California, where he teaches. "My rapping ability made a connection with the students, which is the key to good teaching."

In his first year of teaching, Kajitani couldn't get his students to pay attention in class. But if a new rap song came out on the radio, the same students would have it memorized the next day. "So seven years ago, I practiced all night, and got to class and put on a beat and busted out," Kajitani remembers. "It was a disaster. The students were grabbing their stomachs and laughing."

But by lunch, he heard the students rapping his song So Many Lines (video below), and the next day they were excited for class. They were hooked. And in the process, they learned the lesson that "parallel lines are two lines that never touch, they never intersect, and that's why they are such."




"The idea of using music to teach math is a thousand years old," says Marcella Runell Hall, associate director for New York University's Center for Multicultural Education and Programs, who studies hip hop. "Hip-hop lends itself well to teaching math because there are so many beats and repetition. If it gets students to remember what they wouldn't otherwise remember, that's phenomenal."

Back in Kajitani's class, the teacher sees students quietly mouthing the words to his raps while they try to solve a test's math question.

"Rapping is a small part of my teaching, about 5 percent," Kajitani says. "But it's a pretty powerful 5 percent."

Malaika Costello-Dougherty is a senior editor at Edutopia.

Go to "How to Write Your Own Math Rap."

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