Alex Kajitani, 2009 California Teacher of the Year, and Jan Morrison, President of TIES (the Teaching Institute for Excellence) motivate STEM teachers to put ideas into action.
Alex Kajitani was a struggling new teacher at a tough, inner-city school in San Diego. As the students came in each day unable to remember simple math concepts from the day before, yet singing every word to the new rap song on the radio, he realized he needed a new approach. Fed up with the students coming in rapping lyrics about violence, drug use, and mistreating women, he began to perform rap songs about the math he was teaching. He used authentic rap beats similar to what was on the radio, and interjected messages about making good decisions and living a positive life.
The songs quickly became legendary throughout the school, and the district. Test scores soared, and Kajitani’s “at-risk” students began outperforming their more affluent counterparts on districtwide tests...
This was over seven years ago, and marked the official birth of The Rappin’ Mathematician™. Since then, Kajitani has turned a new teacher’s desperate attempt to connect with his students into a nationwide teaching tool. Teachers, parents, home-schoolers and administrators across the country are reporting The Rappin’ Mathematician™ music not only getting their kids better grades in math, but getting them excited about math and school as well!
Chris Roe: This session is about inspiration and were very pleased to have withus a couple of really inspiring people. First were going to switch the order alittle bit and have Alex Kajitani come up. Alex is the 2009 California Teacherof the Year and was named as a finalist for National Teacher of the Year.Looking for a way to connect with his inner-city students, he began combiningrap music with the math he was teaching. After teaching middle school math foreight years, the Rappin Mathematician now coaches teachers throughout EscondidoUnion School District. So Alex Kajitani, welcome.Alex Kajitani: Thank you very much. Its an honor to be here. My name is AlexKajitani and I am on a mission to make math cool. Thank you one person overthere, thank you. I have to confess I wasnt always a Rappin Mathematician.Several years ago I was a brand new teacher just absolutely struggling tosurvive in my classroom. I couldnt get my students to pay attention. I couldntget them to sit still in class and I certainly couldnt get them to remember themath rule that I just taught them the day before. And what I realize though isthat a rap song would come out on Monday and by Tuesday they seem to have everysingle word memorized. I see a lot of nods out there and the problem with thisof course is that they were coming in rapping about drug use and violence andabusing women, and so one day I just absolutely had enough. I couldnt take itanymore and so we were studying, adding and subtracting decimals at the time.So I wrote a rap song called the Itty-Bitty Dot about decimals, and I went homeand I searched on the internet, free hip hop rap beat and actually found oneand so I practiced all night in front of the mirror and I thought to myself,okay Im going to be the man when I come in tomorrow morning and so, I got therereally early the next morning. I got everything set up and the students came inand I hit play and I busted out the Itty-Bitty Dot. It was a complete disaster.I have never been so embarrassed in my life. My students began laughing at me.In fact I can still picture a student, Josue, he was laughing so hard hestarted clutching his stomach, he fell out of his chair and hit his head on thecarpet I had to send him to the nurse for an ice pack. And so I thought tomyself okay that was a disaster. You know I see exactly where this is going.Yesterday my students wouldnt pay attention to me. Today theyre laughing at me.Tomorrow Im going to be on the job market and so I just said, ah forget it Iblew it off, and went about my day, but then a very interesting thing happened.I went to the teachers lounge for lunch and I walked by the lunch tables andall the students were singing the Itty-Bitty Dot, even the ones who werent inmy class were singing along with the ones who were and something which hadnever happened to me happened the very next day. My students came in absolutelyexcited to be in my class. They were saying things like, Oh Mr. Kajitani areyou going to rap again? Yesterday was the best day ever! And Josue actuallyasked me if was going to quit teaching and be on MTV full time. So they haventcalled yet but at the end of week my test scores shot through the roof and so Ilike to say Ive been math rappin ever since. And so this is so veryembarrassing but Im just going to put myself out there like I was willing to dofor my students. Here it is the Itty-Bitty Dot. I promise my dance moves havegotten much better since then. Okay they havent gotten better at all but hereit is the Itty-Bitty Dot.[Rap Song Playing][Applause]Alex Kajitani: Thank you very much. Thank you.[Applause]Alex Kajitani: Thank you. And so what I did was this, I started to seeindividual achievement rise in my own class. I started to research rap musicand its role in society and what I found out was fascinating and disturbing atthe same time. What I found is that teens who regularly watch these gangsterrap videos are three times more likely to hit a teacher, two times more likelyto have multiple sex partners and two and a half times more likely to getarrested all before the age of eighteen. And thats when it occurred to me, rapmusic is the greatest instructional strategy ever created because in two-minuteincrements it is teaching our kids how to talk, how to dress, and what theyperceive is reality. And so at that point my mission became very clear. What Iwanted to do is I wanted to take Standards-Based Concepts that I was alreadyteaching and instead of taking two days to teach parallel lines, what if Icould introduce it in two minutes. And so what I did was I made another songcalled So Many Lines and gave it to our after school video club, and thestudents conceptualized, filmed, edited and produced this video all bythemselves. And this video actually went on to win the IVIE or Innovative Videoin Education Award in San Diego a few years back. So, heres just a short clipof So Many Lines. Lets see if you can really get a good picture of whatparallel lines are, instead of in two days, in two minutes.[Music playing]Alex Kajitani: Alright, oh thanks again. Youre too kind.[Applause]Alex Kajitani: Now its a little bit misleading because I say two minutes butactually embedded in this two-minute video is hours upon hours of our studentsinnovating, collaborating, trying things and failing but really puttingtogether the 21st century skills that they need in order to really bring ourcountry to where it needs to be. Now yesterday I was sitting in the paneldiscussion. Somebody asked a great question. They said, what is the potentialrisk to implementing the Common Core Standards? And I thought that was a greatquestion but let me invite you to think about the question a different way.What is the potential risk to not implementing the Common Core Standards?[Applause]Alex Kajitani: Because in 2006 Los Angeles Unified determined that the numberone most failed class among high school drop outs is Algebra 1. We talked allthe time about how Algebra 1 is the gateway class to get into college, but whatwere not talking about is that it is the gateway class to dropping out ofschool altogether. Likewise a quality of life in Los Angeles 2008 State of theCounty Report update found that just 15 percent of Los Angeles County ninthgraders are proficient in Algebra 1. So, we all understand in this room that 15percent is a pretty low number, but let me show you what this looks like inreal life. Out of approximately 100 of our students there are fifteen of theminside that circle, leaving everybody else outside that circle to compete forthe jobs which do not require at least proficiency in Algebra 1, and you canimagine how small that circle gets as we move towards Calculus. It gets smallerand smaller and smaller. And so yesterday also when I was, you know, listeningto the panel I heard Matt Lonner from Chevron say that what Chevron and othercompanies need is they need students who can think and act with applied realworld Mathematics. And so as we look at the common core mathematical practicesthat are going to be required of our students, where do we start? Lets startwith just the very first one. The first practice thatll be required of ourstudents is to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. The waythat theyre going to be able to do this is to be able to have applied knowledgeof real world mathematics and mathematics in the real world, but let me remindyou there are two real worlds that exist. Theres the real world that we asparents and as adults and as working professionals think exists, and thentheres the real world that our students think exists. And those sometimes arecompletely different worlds. And the way that we can really get them to makesense of problems and persevere and solve them is quite simple. What weve gotto do is stop forcing our curriculum into our students lives and instead takeour students lives and fit it into the curriculum. If we dont, were going to behere ten years from now wondering, how come the Common Core Standards didntwork? Our students have got to have the real world knowledge and that can startat any age. So I want to close with a little game that I like to play with mystudents. Its called the Math Professor and I apologize to any math professorsout there who think this is a complete over simplification of the job that theydo, but I work with little kids, right? So heres what we do, I pretend that Imthe math professor and I claim that there is nothing that does not havesomething to do with math, and if they can think of something that has nothingto do with math they can win a prize, and if they can stump me they can win aprize. And so at first the students were really excited to play this game. AndI got to admit year after year they come up with the same stuff right. Someonewill always say ketchup and I say, oh great this is an opportunity to talkabout proportion and about ratios and Heinz 57 and calories and things likethat, and I will admit also I was almost stumped once. A student raised herhand and said, Oh Mr. Kajitani I know something that has nothing to with math,and I said, What? And they said, Love, and as I was scratching my head sweatinganother student raised her hand and said, I know! When youre in love that canget really expensive![Laughter]Alex Kajitani: And another student raised her hand and said, I know, I know!Usually when youre in love or usually one plus one equals two, but when yourein love if youre not careful one plus one can equal three.[Laughter]Alex Kajitani: Thats where I cut it off right there. Thats where I cut it off.And so heres what happens, at first the students are really eager to play thisgame and after a week or so they start to go, oh I know something that doesnthave to do with oh wait, wait, no never mind, never mind. I got it. I got it.Oh I thought ofoh no, no, no. I thought itand after awhile they dont want toplay anymore. And thats when we know weve got them. When our students saythings like, Okay fine! We give up! Everything has something to do with mathalright. Lets do something else! Thats when we know that weve got the realworld application beginning to grow inside them. When they see everything interms of their world and how it relates to math, only then can we begin toaddress that mathematical practice of making sense of problems and persevere insolving them. I would love to come and talk to your group organization moreabout this. So please feel free to contact me anytime. Let me know how I canhelp but of course I wouldnt be the Rappin Mathematician if I didnt close outthis conference with a little rap Ive been working on. Its going to take alittle participation. Were going to get you out of here thinking about somebodywho is very, very important to you. You might not have thought of this person along time, but I want you to think of one teacher who had a significantinfluence on your life right now. Think of one teacher and when I say, Myteacher hero is, I want you to shout out their name. Its probably been awhilesince you thought of this person. Are you ready? My teacher hero is---[Audience Shouting]Alex Kajitani: Come on, my teacher hero is---[Audience shouting]Alex Kajitani: Ah yeah its the Rappin Mathematician saluting all the teachersbecause you know that is the mission. With CSLNet and the common core, listenup yo, we got a lot in store, because my teacher hero is---[Audience shouting]Speaker2: Come on my teacher hero is---[Audience shouting]Alex Kajitani: My name is Alex Kajitani and Im on a mission to make math cool.Thank you very much.[Applause]Chris Roe: Well that was great. I wish I had a math teacher like that. That wasnot the name that I called. That was my math teacher by the way. So, its mypleasure next to introduce a woman who is a long-time mentor and colleague. Iveknown Jan for gosh I dont know seven, eight years probably. Although Jansofficial title is Executive Director of TIES I like to think of her as thegodmother of STEM in a good way, a godmother in a good way. Shes advisednational governments including not only our own country but other countriesaround the world in, probably at least ten or more states on STEM education.Shes really a woman that I have tremendous respect for. So Im really pleasedthat shes here and shes going to offer us some words of wisdom from her vantagefrom TIES. So Jan please come up.[Applause]Jan Morrison: Okay so my good friend Jennifer Jess said well, thats a hell ofan act to follow.[Laughter]Jan Morrison: Right? Okay, not an act. The real question is, how do you makethis work? Weve all been treated to an amazing conference, an absolutelyamazing conference and I shouldve been mic-ed, I think, because Im not going tosit there. Okay, we know that. We have found over the last day in a half twodays, that it does matter that were talking STEM, that it isnt just aneducation issue that we care, that were talking about population growth. Wecare that were talking about climates and we care that our kids are working onbiotech problems and have the kind of projects that they have inside. It isntjust education. It is STEM leading STEM education. That has to be engrainedhere as we walk out because we loved it. Were in this and here and we allcommented yesterday and the day and the evening before, because we adore thefact that thats why were here at all. Thats where we started with thosequestions. The second thing that we heard is that its going to take all. Itsgoing to take a revision of the system, we talked about cultures, we talkedabout all kinds of aspirations that we have, real work, real jobs, models, notinformation but what we do with it and on and on and on, statistic afterstatistic after statistic. Do you think Alexs kids care about those statistics?Not an ounce. Theyre the living statistic. So if we start from that we have toknow that, and we have to plan for that, and our decision making has to bedriven by it. We have to know what we know in order to be in front of our kids,but if thats what they hear and if thats what our communities hear, were deadon arrival. Nobody wants to know what the problem is. Everybody wants to berapping. Everybody wants to figure out what Kareem can do. Everybody wants toknow what the project is. Everybody wants to know how to deliver it. So if werewalking out of here and we dont have a plan, thats a problem. So, in your mindseye before you leave the table, whats the single thing youre going to do thatyou have never done thats going to make a difference in the work that you do,thats going to make a difference for those who you work with? How do we do it?Weve heard about slipping it under the door. Weve heard about you finding yourown coolness. There a lot of takeaways from this conference. I just started tocollect them and jot them down. You have to find your own coolness. Thats whatwe connected here. Our kids are different than we are. I was at a conferencenot too long ago and somebody said to me, Mrs. Morrison which was a problemright off, Jan does everybody in STEM have to have gray hair? I had to take astep back. Okay I do. Got it, but thats a really good question because thatperson who is very young looked around the room and said, wait a minute I dontsee me crafting the solution. So those of us who are veterans and who had beenhere forever and I am one of them. I mean I first saw the first standards. Isaw the third standards and God willing were not going to have another set.This is going to do it. If we do not bring our prodigy with us theres nobodybehind us. And by the way theyre digital natives and were not and that counts.It counts in which you heard at this conference if loud and clear, is itsplanning for tomorrow. It is not rehashing what weve done. We did not go backto Sputnik. One word on it, it was gratifying. I loved it. We dont have to wishfor a Sputnik. Weve got it now. Weve got what we have to live. We have to livethe earth. We have to listen to our kids and what they count, what they think.We have to alsothe challenge to us all that we also heard loud and clear is toadvance our own story. If it stays the way were doing the work right now, it isthe way it is. If we take on the challenge of the future and create and developour own story then our kids come with us because theyre all about stories.Thats the grab. The grab is the once upon a time. Its the story you can tellabout. That teacher that you yelled out loudly, about the school that mattered,about the experience, well thats what our kids are crafting now as well. Sothis conference has been all about giving you the opportunity to now start andto craft your own story. What are you going to start with, with once upon atime? But the thing for me thats so important about us all being here, is thefact that we are a community other than for California STEM Learning Network,we would not be together. Look around the room. These are not folks you spendtime with. These are folks that you now are learning to spend time with andyesterday I watched and you were not sitting with just folks you knew who madeyou comfortable because you came with them on the plane or you work with them,you were sitting with everybody else, and you went out to dinner last nightwith everybody else and I said, Ah hah, the network is starting to do work. Thenetwork is actually starting to do the thing it was meant to do, and that is tomake a single community a practice. So when you walk out of here and youretelling your story, it starts with I am part of California STEM LearningNetwork, which will as a result of me or but for me would never have happened.So, the challenge that for all of us in this is to create at TIES we call ourbutt force, but for me it would not have happened. But for my kids it wouldnthappen, but for the California STEM Learning Network which is all of us, notjust Chris, not just Marcela, and their staffs, its all of us now because wevecrossed that line, that we know now that we can do our work to a greater degreebecause the network is here. I have a colleague and friend whos a great systemsengineer who says, Networks are only as good as the work they do so get towork. So thats the charge to us, enough talking and weve thought together, wevehad a good time together but the real test of this is the work were going to dotogether. And thats the challenge as you walk out, thats what you have to feelright here because Californias got lots of kids and you know it, and those kidsare depending upon us. Thanks.[Applause]Chris Roe: Thank you Jan. Wow that was inspiring! Those are big, its a bigcharge but shes right. We can only do this together as a, as a group and youare all part of CSLNet. When I tell my story about once upon a time, I thinkto, once upon a time I met a woman by the name of Marcella Klein Williams, whounder good guidance I decided to hire as my Chief Education Officer. So Im verypleased to welcome her to the stage. She is my inspiration for the work that Ido. So Marcella take it away.[Applause]Marcella Klein Williams: Well Im delighted to go after Alex and after Jan and Ithink Im feeling a little bit from both of them in my closing words for this.So these are my closing words but theyre not the closing words for you as westill have more to come. Im really looking forward to the luncheon of sharingthe stage with incredible women in STEM in the state of California. So Im goingto close with a story thats a little bit of my story and its a story about mydad, but first lets start with the math. So heres the Math Alex. Its just foryou. So vision plus leadership times partners plus collaboration equals theCalifornia STEM revolution. So thank you for your participation in theCalifornia STEM Summit transforming ideas into action, and through your vision,your leadership, your innovation and your courage to step forward, we have theopportunity to become the STEM workers, leaders and innovators of tomorrow. Sowhether you come from business and industry, from K12 education or youre aboard member for CSLNet or on the advisory or perhaps the part of The Power ofDiscovery: STEM 2, or if youre simply here because you love children. We are init to win it and were in it together. So youve seen the mismatch between ourcurrent education system and here in California we have the best and brightestSTEM economy. We should have a matching STEM education system to go right alongwith it and, you know, yesterday when I was listening to Sugata Mitra in thebreakout session, the last question was about teacher preparation and he said,You know, people come to Newcastle University because Im there but these biginstitutions they move slowly. We dont have course work about the research thatIm doing. Theres a little piece of me that thinks, were going to kick someBritish, because we know how to move and we know how to respond to that, andthe next time he comes well be able to say to him, you know that teacherpreparation issue, in California we have it figured out here. So you know thatthrough quality STEM teaching and learning, our students will gain theknowledge and qualifications to step into challenging jobs. And the icing onthe cake is those challenging jobs have a better wage to go along with it, andas families and leaders and those with a little gray hair, isnt that what wehope and pray for, for all of our children is they do better than we didbeforehand. So quality STEM education will mean that the top companies inCalifornia and the nation will recruit our students and join the workforcebecause we are providing the best and the brightest. So the time is up and ourtime has come. And thats why youre sharing the room here. And heres a littlestory about my dad. So I was born to a woman who followed her grandmother intoeducation and my mom became a teacher, and my dad followed his dad into themovie industry. So his dad worked painting ships for World War II and move frompainting ships in the shipyard to running the paint shop at Universal Studios.And my dad went there to work for Universal Studios and he was in the signshop. So I remember asking him, daddy what to do you do? He says I paint signs.You ever see those signs? So the tools that he was using when he was working inthe sign shop at Universal Studios were X-acto knives and films and it came ina black box that would open up, kind of, like a fishing tool kit. And duringhis tenure there is when computers came in and in the movie industrydo all ofyou remember Jaws? Do you ever giggle when you watch it now? Its adorable. Somoved from the sign shop to the graphics arts department, and the man whotaught me how to move and taught me to be nimble and move with the next thing,this is what hed say to me when Id stand side by side with him in his shop, atthe big shop in the backyard, he says, You got it now? Did I teach youeverything you need to know? Okay, my jobs done. Now get to work.[Applause]