Monday, September 24, 2012

Algebra Gets a Bad Rap

Algebra gets a bad rap. In this instance, I'm being completely literal. Let me explain.

I think my lesson planning just jumped the shark, but we'll see. We're learning about slope/rate of change in my Algebra class. I'm doing all sorts of activities to try to help them understand the concepts of slope and rate of change, and I'm reasonably happy with those, but they also need to just know the basics of how to compute the slope of a line when they know two points.

Sometime in the last year or so I ran across this post and video by Mr. Sweeney, where he took the music from Flo Rida's Low but substituted in some lyrics related to calculating slope. I filed that away thinking I might use it for fun sometime. Later I ran across this remix by Ms. Koller that I filed away as well. Now, let me be clear, I don't think this is the way to teach/learn slope or rate of change, but I don't think it's a bad way to make kids smile and perhaps help them remember how to do the nitty-gritty calculations.

So this year I decided to use one or both of them because I've been playing little snippets of songs right before my students take assessments to try to get them to smile and lighten up a bit, and I figured one of these would work well before our assessment over slope. But as I thought about it some more I decided to take a slightly different tack. I combined and modified the lyrics slightly from both Mr. Sweeney and Ms. Koller's version, and then I created a basic PowerPoint with the lyrics and the music in the background.

This is where the shark shows up. I then decided to record the lyrics. Myself.

Now keep in mind I can't sing. Really. I don't mean I'm not a great singer, I mean I'm a really, really bad singer. I really like music, but if there's a recessive gene for tone-deafness, I think I got six of them. I'm really that bad. But since I'd modified the lyrics, and since when I asked my wife (who can sing) if she'd do it she laughed for a really long time, I ended up doing it myself. So when I say that Algebra gets a bad rap, I mean it - Algebra got a really bad rap.

But we're not just going to listen at it so that they can laugh at me (although they did). After we listen to it they are going to have a task - in groups of three or four they are going to have to illustrate each one of my slides. They're going to have about two weeks to come up with slides that will replace my slides with just lyrics on them and hopefully visually illustrate what the lyrics are saying in such a way that it not only help them understand slope, but helps someone else watching the video understand slope as well. I'll then replace my slides with theirs, and we'll re-record the audio as a class. If we come up with something decent, it will get posted in a few weeks.

I feel bad because I can't really give them much (if any) class time to work on this, so it will all be outside of class. But I'm hopeful that with groups of 3 to 4, and with two weeks to illustrate at most 15 seconds of lyrics by each group, they'll come up with something worthwhile. We'll see.


  1. Your blog is nice. Provide right information about algebra, mathematics, slope etc.
    I like your blog.

  2. Karl,

    I applaud your courage ... both in creating the song and video and posting it on Fischbowl.

    I look forward to the follow-up posts for this project.


  3. Amazing i enjoyed this post so much. I am a student that doesn't have the most love for math so i was ready to see your creativity. With the video i was ready to get into it and work some problems thanks so much for the post.

  4. Kudos to you, brave math rapper! :-)

  5. Bravo, Karl. I wish you had been my algebra teacher....