Central Teacher Makes Hip-Hop
Videos To Teach MathPosted by Josh Flory on 11/4/2019
When students listen to a hip-hop song or hear a new rap beat on YouTube, they may not think of algebra as one of the ingredients. But a teacher at Central High School is helping them see the connection, and using music videos to promote mastery of math concepts.
Andrew Turner recently began his 10th year at Central, and has incorporated music into his work since joining the faculty. He began with an after-school club that helped students record songs, and began thinking about ways to use music in the classroom.
One day, Turner brought in equipment that he had used to record each student’s name with a unique musical tone. Rather than calling on students in class, he would hit a button that played the recorded name.
“It was that moment where I saw the kids lighting up and they were just like, ‘Wow, that’s really neat!’” Turner recalled.
Turner had been writing math raps and recording them over the music of other artists, but last year he worked with a class of freshmen to create an original beat. That beat became the foundation for a song and video released last month that aims to remind students about how to use the grouping function on a graphing calculator.
In “Group It Like That”, Turner has a nightmare in which a teacher, played by freshman student Dyamond McCoo, wanders through a dystopian world in which students continually use parentheses incorrectly on their calculators.
The video uses students as actors and dancers, while the underlying song emphasizes a point:
“Using grouping is the way of always making sure you’re getting it correct,
You’re never getting wrecked,
Parentheses will let
You make a little place where you can go ahead and set
Your number like Bet,
Man, don’t you forget.”
Turner said he originally planned to play the teacher in the video, but McCoo volunteered to fill the role herself. “I was just so excited because she took the whole idea to another level, and I don’t think the video would have been the same, the way that I had kind of dreamed it up,” he said.
For her part, McCoo said Algebra is her favorite class, and that music has made it easier to learn the material.
“It’s in a rhythm and when you hear how the directions go and certain beats, it’s more memorize-able and I just learn it easier that way,” she said.
Turner was quick to point out that his classes are aligned to state standards and include quizzes, homework and instruction in all of the required concepts. In fact, his standardized test scores rose last year in both his honors and college prep classes.
But he said that another goal of using music is just to make school enjoyable, both in the classroom and through the after-school club, which has recorded more than 200 songs with students.
“Some of these kids, they really don’t like school. They may not even like me,” he said with a laugh. “But after-school gives us this beautiful setting where we can just focus on their project, focus on the music and I can really teach them how it all works.”
Rap music comes in many forms, and Turner acknowledged that some versions of the music are associated with violence and vulgarity. The teacher said he wants to model the art form in a responsible way, and to help students understand the ways that algebra is essential for making music. “I’m trying to demonstrate how it can be academic, how it can be highly intellectual when you apply it to an entire course, or to an entire content,” Turner added.
Central Principal Andrew Brown said Turner is a careful and detail-oriented teacher, but that he’s also willing to think outside the box.
“One of the reasons Mr. Turner has been a successful teacher is because he’s willing to try new things and do things differently and not necessarily teach algebra a certain way … because it’s the way he’s always done it. He doesn’t become stagnant in his instruction,” the principal said.
In fact, it wasn’t always certain that Turner would become a teacher. He had worked as a tutor during his senior year in high school, but was concerned about not making enough money if he became a professional educator.
As a college student he pursued several courses of study -- including music production -- but a conversation with his grandmother helped convince him to teach.
“She [said] ‘Do you love it?’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ And she said, ‘Then don’t worry about the money. You’re going to have so much more happiness through doing something that you love.’ And I just really took that to heart.”