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Math teacher adds 'hip' to hypotenuse

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This article is in the December 30, 2011 issue of the Contra Costa Times. It's worth reading because it tells about a math teacher at Heritage High School in Brentwood, CA who uses rap to make the kids in his classes remember difficult math concepts and not tune out because math is such a boring subject.

Rapping Brentwood math teacher adds 'hip' to hypotenuse

Colin :icon_geek:

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I suspect I would have had trouble if my teacher had started teaching geometry using Rock n' Roll back in the 50s. But I have to say we did have rhymes for some concepts that helped us remember certain things.

"In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue."

Music notation: "Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit" (EGBDF)

And let's not forget those days of 'rapping' the multiplication tables, er, sorry I mean parroting.

What's really new here is the teachers who wish to use these techniques now seem to be better tolerated than they were a few years ago, and that is wonderful in itself.

Does he end the class with, "I guess that wraps up this lesson eh?"

PS. I can't understand a word of rap songs, they're utterly incomprehensible, cryptical, enigmatical, paradoxical, indecipherable, unintelligible, and unfathomable to me, is all, y'all.

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Rap Music is a conundrum to me. I have heard it expressed as the new poetry of the street and I can see that in light of the beat poetry of the 1950's. As for the music angle, rap seems to be all rhythm to my ears. I accept it as an expression of a different generation, doesn't mean I have to like it because I don't.

But education must go with the flow and a teacher creative enough to allow a current trend into his lessons needs to be commended. I remember the rhymes we used as the means to memorize, but perhaps they were a wee bit more lyrical than rap.

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Actually I see some influence of melody and lyricism in some performers, but I agree rap is generational in its appeal.

I remember too, that whilst rock n' roll was the generational flavour in my youth, our Bing Crosby crooning-loving parents could understand the rhythms of the dance music, whereas the gyrations of rap seem to be without meaning to the words being rattled off during the rap. Indeed the rapper movements appear quite without substance or artistic merit. Occasionally some rap artists do look like they have employed the services of a choreographer and this does enhance the performance considerably, but I don't see the rap as replacing more traditional art forms of movement and singing, mainly because rap is a 'street' medium and significant for that reason.

I have no problem with rap as an expression of today's youthful rebellious exuberance, but it is certainly less accessible for older generations than previous generations' 'new music' forms.

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I read a definition of rap music the other day: Wannabe musicians who can't afford musical instruments or lessons because they spent all their money on drugs.

I don't agree that all rap artists are on drugs, but from the few videos I have seen they all ought to be on the sex offender list. How old is that girl? Perhaps I could modify that definition: Rap Music has a place in our society, probably in a North Korean torture chamber.

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Ouch. Some low-blows in this topic. I'll just leave these here:

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/b1S7qTsW5SY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/2dmqqUGFCzg" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Rap is much like all other forms of music: the vast majority is unlistenable crap, some of it is decent, and if you're willing to dig, you'll find a precious few moments of brilliance.

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Rap is like anything else, music-wise. Some use a form to create art. Some use a form to sell product. Some use their talent. Others have talent for other things.

There are some things that appeal to me a lot, and others that don't do it for me. Rap is very hit or miss for me. But some people can use it brilliantly.

Heck, I'd be happy if I found it natural and easy to do poetic rhyme and meter, to fit the form of a traditional poem or a song, to do song lyrics.

I generally dislike Eminem's stuff, but his song, "Eight Mile," I do like a lot.

Environment and expectations (or camouflage, if you like) go into it a lot too. There are times when you can be your true self, an individual. But often, society, one group or another, does not like that and won't allow you to be that pure, true self. So we all of us, to one extent or another, use a bit of camouflage to fit in, into one group or another. Is that good or bad, right or wrong? No, it just is.

What I'm trying to say is, if everyone around you is an inner city kid from the projects or across the railroad tracks or right near (or from) the trailer park (don't knock it, you might step on someone's toes without knowing it) then very possibly, in order to survive, you have to fit in with that scene to a certain extent.

But a gem still shines and flowers still grow,

Though they're covered in the grime of the city beat, yo.

Talent shows through, no matter the face,

Got to break on through, from the crime in the place.

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I found both offerings from EleCivil very accessible. Thank you.

The first one reminded me of Grand Opera and is an example of the possibility of rap developing lyricism that I mentioned above. In fact this is about the best I have seen. In some ways it is almost Keith Glass like, but not as boring. It is certainly more revelatory and somehow bridged the philosophy of Man's search for meaning with youth's desire to be, to know, to wonder.

The second one strikes me as the authentic voice of youth, deprived youth perhaps, but that doesn't lessen the universality of the experience.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a 20 Year old university student some ten years ago.

He was resisting learning and rebelling against the system as he saw it. He couldn't see why he should learn anything.

So I zeroed in with the question, "How do feel about life on Earth?"

Without hesitation he looked me straight in the eye and answered me, "Your generation fucked everything."

I told him that was what I said when I was his age, and again he responded, "Yeah, and it seems that is what we do, but I have to do something."

I raised my eyebrow at him quizzically.

I swear I saw the lights go on in his head; he smiled at me, then we both laughed. The funny thing was the whole conversation was an accident, but it worked and he graduated. (Media arts course).

Cole, these two messages are much slower in the delivery than most rap, they are well recorded, and the messages are quite worthwhile. The repetition is to my ear less annoying than occurs in so-called modern classic music, but I do find both the politics and philosophy appealing. Needless to say I expect rap to be threatened with banning by the religiously rabid Right Republican candidates. And that proves to my mind that rap can't be useless if it can annoy that lot.

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Des, check this out:

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/sMOVrVS75cM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

I think you'll dig it. It's one of his more "Zen" poems/raps.


Back on the topic of using rap in the classroom - it's cool, as long as it isn't forced and gimmicky. This guy seems to be having fun with it, throwing his energy behind it, and the kids are responding to that energy. Ron Clark does similar things at Ron Clark Academy with stellar results.

A couple years ago, our administration bought a pre-packaged "math rap" program - professionally produced tracks that the kids rapped along with, along with work books with things like "Find the radius of the 24-inch rim" and "Count the diamonds on the bling" and other such uninspired BS. It failed miserably. The teachers hated it, because all teachers hate being told to use specific methods that don't match with their own style (It's like if I told a writer that he HAD to write in the first person, because I used it and it worked for me). The kids hated it because they saw it as pandering at best and offensive at worst. The people who put together this program clearly did not "get" rap; they were using it to make money from schools desperate to close the "racial performance gap" (which is another topic to itself - I could write for hours about that one).

Once, one of our more astute students left that class to come talk to me (I am sometimes assigned as a mentor for kids who get in trouble all the time, usually for being too clever for their own good - they have standing passes to come find me when they're upset). He said "You know why I hate that class? It's a white woman acting like a black rapper stereotype to be funny, or ironic, or something. It's a minstrel show. If she really liked hip-hop, or knew anything about the culture, it could be cool, but this... It's like they looked at us and said 'These kids are too ghetto to just learn math. Let's teach them rap music instead. That's all they can understand." (I miss that kid - we used to play chess during lunch. He graduated last year.)

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Huh, yeah. Rap's not my idiom, but even I get that rap is supposed to flow, to be spontaneous. And the teachers (and for sure the students) are going to know if they (the teachers) aren't in / don't know the culture. A kid's going to know if the teacher is comfortable in that, or if the teacher's at least trying to meet them halfway. ...Uh, and that pre-packaged teaching material sounds... ouch, man. The designers may have had good intentions, but it sounds like they forgot their intended audience, there.

That student got it in one guess, too. -- I'm impressed, a mentor, good idea.

-- "You f***ed the world." -- "But we've got to do something." -- Wow, is that ever true. (You know, I have to wonder why I bleeped out the cuss word. I even know the claims on the etymology of that one. Heheh.) But the point being, yep, gotta do something, or you either make things worse or don't contribute to making them better, or at least, to try to make them better.

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Thank you Elecivil. The speed of the Saul Williams' rap requires concentration, and I found myself slipping into what I never expected with rap, an emotional reaction to the sound of the words conveying more than their literal meaning. A voice, as a member of the orchestra known as humanity, in a symphony that is more than a cacophony, if one will just allow it to exist on its own terms to reality.

And yes, I did get the connection to Zen. Very inspiring, but like anything Zen, effort must be made until it transcends itself and is no more, because we then know that we don't know. But that is not an answer that should stop us from looking, as it seems that we so often do when we think we know something, anything; nothing.

I have long considered that a good rapper could present what I like to imagine as Shakespeare in Rap. Unfortunately even modern classical actors are losing the ability to deliver the iambic Pentameter whilst maintaining dramatic conviction, and yet the above rap from Saul Williams has an underlying conviction that defies conventional rap with dramatic substance. I liked it quite a lot on many different levels.

If we wander for a moment to consider that in Shakespeare's time, his plays were understood by his audience consisting of working people as well as scholars and members of the aristocracy, then it seems that today's audience are baffled by not only Elizabethan English, but are also confronted by understanding the depth of meaning available from simply watching the characters interact; perhaps, and maybe unkindly, today's audiences watch too simply. (Courtesy of TV perhaps.)

Something similar maybe going on with the cultural gap that divides rap from being accessible for different generations.

To illustrate what I mean, I found this rapper (who admits he is no expert) 'rapping' his adaptation of Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be," soliloquy.

The Shakespearian intent is largely intact, but the form is not iambic pentameter, but neither is it strictly monotonic rapping. As I said, he admits to not being an expert rapper, and it takes him a few lines to find his stride, but then it comes alive.

My reason for harping on this is because I believe something is happening with the dramatic performing arts that few are actually exploring apart from the young guys who attempt (maybe unknowingly) to cross the boundaries between generations, between forms, and bridge the sufferings of separateness common to us all.

<iframe width="480" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/PuBcrOLxrGM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Here is the original text for the Hamlet's monologue which may help you to see what the rapper has done in the video above.


To be, or not to be- that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish'd. To die- to sleep.

To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub!

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There's the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,

The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death-

The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns- puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action.- Soft you now!

The fair Ophelia!- Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins rememb'red.

There will be an exam on Friday mornin',

so watch this now, to get yo learnin'.
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Saul Williams' "Untimely Meditations" -- The delivery is a lot like beat poetry from, well, not too far before my time. ;) I wonder if rap and hip-hop fans would find something in common with beat poetry?

And I'll check out more of Saul Williams' stuff.

Hang on, listening to the two new videos.

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I love it, EleCivil! I can see high school kids getting excited about Macbeth listening to this rap, and wanting to read the real thing.

Colin :icon_geek:

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Interestingly about 6 years ago a school from another state sent its school production of Macbeth to the Adelaide Festival Fringe. There were around 30 teens in the production including their lighting and sound technicians. The unique thing about the production was that the original Shakespearean script had been adapted to more or less modern English with occasional references to Elizabethan English when that suited the not inconsiderable changes to the locale of the action.

The play was split into three sections. The first act was done as if it was a Star Trek episode, with the witches at the beginning hailing the Enterprise "On screen," so to speak, and Macbeth responding to the witches' prophecy of his becoming king, ordered his crew to "make it so."

The second act was done as 'film noir' like a 1940s Hollywood, black and white thriller/detective story.

Whilst the remaining third act was set as a cowboy movie in the old west.

The whole production was a ensemble effort under the guidance and vision of their teacher, who encouraged the teens to contribute rather than just follow his direction.

The teen actors had a ball and were really interested in doing more Shakespeare plays. I think rap would have appealed to many of them.

The teacher/director was beside himself with satisfaction as he watched the kids become involved with theatre and Shakespeare.

He said he would come back with a new production at the next Fringe Festival, but I believe the school didn't make the funds available for the production to tour.

As the resident theatre technician, I had a wonderful time coaching the cast and crew from a practical stage craft point of view, and was really sorry that they didn't come back.

Another missed opportunity, to my mind, of encouraging interest in the performing arts.

I did hear from the young lighting technician some 4 years later, and he had formed his own lighting and sound business for theatrical productions. He was very talented. How I wished I'd had those opportunities when I was 18, but I can't complain as working with that show was great fun. :biggrin:

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This is the same reason I liked the version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio, done by, iirc, Baz Luhrman (sp?). It was over the top, but it was done as though it was rival gangs or crime families, sort of West Side Story minus musicals and backed by a rock score. When I was in high school, they had us study R&J and West Side Story back to back. The R&J movie was the older film, late 60's I think, romantic music and all, along with reading the plays. We got to watch a film version of Macbeth also, which I think was from around the late 70's, done as though medieval, not updated to 19th or 20th century sets and costumes.

Back to math problems, there's bound to be a better way to tackle math that makes it relatable to the kids' city life. The word problems we had were often ag / farming related. Fine if you're a farm and ranch kid. Not so fine for the suburbs or the hood. I'd bet I was one of the few in my class who had any idea about farming, and that's because of relatives. -- Why they don't teach math word problems using concrete things like buying groceries, paying your monthly bills and rent, gas and travel by car, things like that, I don't know. That's relatable for a city kid, from the burbs or the hood either one. -- Uh, but the textbook and curriculum writers, I bet they have no real idea of the problems faced by those students. (I only have some slight idea, either, but thanks to friends, I do know a little. Very little. I bet I'd be shocked. I bet I'd also be shocked that yes, despite all that, how many kids *do* want to learn and get themselves out of that situation.)

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