Rapping math teacher uses rhyme to make sense of cosine
Maryland teacher Jake '2 Pi' Scott brings formulas and theorems to life for traditionally math-averse high school students.
Wed, Jan 30 2013 at 3:52 PM
Teacher Jake Scott, aka "2 Pi." (Photo: Snapshot from "Quadratic Forumulatic" video)
There are hundreds of hip-hop artist spitting rhyme. Rapper 2 Pi takes it to a whole other level by spitting rhyme and reason.
2 Pi is the alter ego of Jake Scott, a math teacher at Montgomery Blair High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.
The music of 2 Pi features the beats and rhythms familiar to a thousand rap songs. But instead of glorifying gold grillz and bragging about sexual conquests, 2 Pi's rap lyrics break down the quadratic formula, explain the Pythagorean theorem or demonstrate how to graph trig functions.
Scott has produced seven math rap videos — which can be found on his YouTube channel ScottAu190. An eighth rap video is in the works.
Scott says when he first created 2 Pi in an effort to reach his students, he would rap in class. But while the students could follow the words, they couldn’t picture the images: angles, triangles, formula construction. Videos allow Scott to combine words and images with music to create a math lecture you can dance to, like "Undefined Expressions" below:
It’s difficult to correlate 2 Pi rap videos with higher test scores, Scott says, “but students have remarked (that the videos) have helped them memorize formulas.”
The videos have also done something previously unthinkable: made math cool.
“My class is fun. My class is exciting,” says Scott, who has been teaching since 2007. “I have kids coming into my classroom who are not in my class.”
The growing popularity of 2 Pi has boosted participation in an eight-week summer math camp held at the high school. Three years ago, 15 students participated. Then 30. Last summer it was more than 100.
“One of the draws to the summer camp is that the students participate in the video,” says Scott, who is also the school’s wrestling coach.
Some students who hated math are now taking advanced classes — classes they would have avoided before they met 2 Pi.
Music, Scott says, is a powerful teaching tool.
“Music is organization. Students often have a difficult time organizing and recalling information, but if it is in a rap, it is already organized.”
The rap videos “are meeting kids on their playing field,” Scott says, noting that nearly everyone on campus has earbuds dangling from their necks. Students seem to appreciate the effort to speak in their language, he adds.
The videos have earned Scott a measure of media notice — an article in The Washington Post and a segment on National Public Radio — and other honors. The Montgomery County branch of the NAACP named Scott 2011 teacher of the year and he was one of 102 "superstar teachers" invited to join Microsoft’s Partners in Learning 2012 U.S. Forum.
Scott says he plans to develop the videos into a DVD-based curriculum, and he has no plans to leave the classroom. “I love being in the classroom with the kids on the front line.”
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