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Crank That Honor Roll
June 8, 2008 1:10 AM   Subscribe

Smart Shorties is a new CD being marketed to teachers that takes the beats from popular rap songs and rewrites them to the multiplication tables, with the intent of improving kids' math skills. Forbes has a nice roundup on it's history, and NPR has done a featurette on it as well At the very least, it's certainly worth a listen for the chuckle potential, but in addition to that, it's an interesting example of the now-booming Edutainment industry, something that not only spans CD's, but also computer games and even standalone video game consoles.

also, Smart Shorties is certainly not the only "Hip-hop in the classroom" product out there, nor is it the first.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew (37 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
To bad it still buys in to the horrible mathematical education in this country that focuses on memorization and calculation -- stuff that would have been great for people seeking professional careers before the 1980s.
posted by delmoi at 1:33 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can you elaborate delmoi? Skill with basic multiplication seems like a pretty low bar that not only everyone should be able to do but seems to be a requirement for at least some of more advanced math.
posted by Mitheral at 3:06 AM on June 8, 2008


and for the adults there is dj flowerpot.
posted by tofupup at 3:39 AM on June 8, 2008


Can you elaborate delmoi? Skill with basic multiplication seems like a pretty low bar that not only everyone should be able to do but seems to be a requirement for at least some of more advanced math.

Ooh, I know this one: see Lockhart's Lament and a recent study, both previously.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 3:47 AM on June 8, 2008


Y'know when I was a kid, I thought Schoolhouse Rock had always existed and would always exist. I'm mildly disappointed it's not still used actively to teach the new generation about math, history, and grammar.

However, I listen to the music that's popular today and I can see that stuff like Naughty Number Nine or Three Is a Magic Number cannot compete with today's top forty. There's some awesome covers out there of Schoolhouse Rock tunes tho. Just takes a little digging.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:19 AM on June 8, 2008


Pity there isn't one to help with spelling...
posted by Mephisto at 5:38 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mephisto: "Pity there isn't one to help with spelling..."

tho = though

That was a 'misspelling' of choice: 'though' abbreviated. Language is an evolving beast. The 'ugh' is ugly, superfluous, and I hope to see it dropped from common vernacular in a couple generations.

..or were you referring to someone else?
posted by ZachsMind at 5:43 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, ZachsMind, I was about to link to that Schoolhouse Rock Wiki page, too. I have the DVD: my 8-year-old's been pretty into it for a few years now. Anyway, here's one of her faves, Conjunction Junction.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:44 AM on June 8, 2008


To bad it still buys in to the horrible mathematical education in this country that focuses on memorization and calculation -- stuff that would have been great for people seeking professional careers before the 1980s.

I think that (some) memorization and calculation serve the same purpose in math as basic spelling and grammar serve in language. Meaning, you have to have the basic tools before you build the house. And really, calculating small multiples is just stupid over and over and over again--times tables make a lot of sense to memorize.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:16 AM on June 8, 2008


Not the first by any means at all, I remember doing the 50 State Rap for a second grade "play", solo. Born MC, right here.
posted by mediocre at 7:40 AM on June 8, 2008


When I did a brief stint in IT for a public school system a few years back, I observed a few teachers using Schoolhouse Rock DVDs in the classroom, but I can't say how common this usage was. I am pretty sure that it wasn't in any way sponsored or endorsed by the district, though. Which is a shame, because Schoolhouse Rock is kind of awesome.

This? This is pretty meh.
posted by Alterscape at 7:46 AM on June 8, 2008


I hate stupid memorization focused education - its a big reason I was a high school dropout. Now that I'm back in school and taking math and science classes I sure wish I had memorized my times tables when I was in elementary school!
posted by serazin at 7:50 AM on June 8, 2008


Forget spelling; too bad there isn't a hip hop song to help with proper placement of the apostrophe!


Yo shizz
when you mean it is
you gotta drop that apostrophe
after the letter t

but yo man
if you mean to be possessive
just adding one anywhere
ain't that impressive
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:08 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, the word "featurette" needs to be banned before it hurts someone!
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:09 AM on June 8, 2008


Although I grew up watching it on beamed in American TV, I'm kind of wondering what is the point of Schoolhouse Rock... For example, what is "Conjunction Junction" supposed to be teaching? Presumably, the children watching the clip already know the meaning of and + but + or. Is "Conjunction Junction" then trying to teach basic concepts in grammar? To ten year olds? But why? As a former trained EFL teacher, I just can't understand a grammar-based approach to teaching language to learners, whose creativity should be encouraged instead.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:36 AM on June 8, 2008


As a linguist, KokuRyu, I could not agree more
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:37 AM on June 8, 2008


I don't know about the virtues of setting important material to music or beats. Decades later, I still have to sing the ABC's to figure out whether P comes before Q, or which letter of the alphabet J is. Do we really want bankers in the year 2050 to be computing rates of return by rapping Notorious BIG songs?
posted by decoherence at 9:05 AM on June 8, 2008


Now that I'm back in school and taking math and science classes I sure wish I had memorized my times tables when I was in elementary school!

Bingo. Every skill requires some memorization, until the point where it's instinctual.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:10 AM on June 8, 2008


speaking as a member of the generation of schoolchildren upon whom schoolhouse rock was forced well, well after its pulldate (i was in elementary school for the first half of the nineties), allow me to say that i think it can only be a positive thing that it's, at long last, being superseded.

i actually avoided looking at the smart shorties business because i couldn't conceive of it as being anything but stomach-churning, but the remakes are actually quite faithful, and i can see this being, potentially, quite useful. i know a couple people doing their teaching practicum in inner city schools, at the moment, and i can assure you that, if nothing else, "crank them 3s" would be well-received. whether it would be in another twelve months, i don't know. but still.

and come on. memorizing a multiplication table is not going to stunt any child's capacity for critical thinking. it might, however, give the impression that learning things can, in fact, be an enjoyable endeavor.
posted by wreckingball at 9:16 AM on June 8, 2008


memorizing a multiplication table is not going to stunt any child's capacity for critical thinking. it might, however, give the impression that learning things can, in fact, be an enjoyable endeavor.

I was largely with you until this. I ended up with a Math degree, but it's mainly *despite* the years of people trying to force me to learn multiplication tables, which I never did. Do you really think memorizing such a table might be just the thing to give someone the idea that learning can be fun?

I think the opposite. Just like learning matrix operations before you have anything to do with them makes people think Linear Algebra is Ugly and Boring (to quote Nancy where I'm sure she'd never have expected). There is so much fun stuff you do *using* multiplication to understand what it means, what you can do with, and so forth. I think the main reason so many teachers just make kids memorize the multiplication tables is simply that it's something the teachers know how to do since they never got anything better in *their* math education.

Please note - I'm not in any way dismissing the efforts of teachers themselves. Every teacher I know tries the very best they can to surpass the usually shoddy math education they got, and many succeed. But the fundamental model - that memorizing a bunch of trivia makes you love learning and has value itself - I find insidious and destructive.

It's like calculus classes filled only with memorizing trig identities and derivation trivia which never convey the deep and beautiful ideas the whole thing rests on, or linear algebra classes that never give geometric interpretations. I have enough faith in the power and value of real learning and science that I will go so far as to claim that the focus on memorization is responsible for much of the Dire State the World is In.

Surely if math were taught as I think it should be, Hunger, Tyranny, and Evil the world over should be reduced to mere loose cobblestones and bumps in the Road to Tomorrow, and we would all be traipsing around a happy utopia based on rational and clear thought.
posted by freebird at 10:08 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Memorizing the multiplication table is great, but what I didn't get is why they made us go to 12. 0-9 are necessary for running the arithmetic without having to figure out what 5x3 and 9x4 are over and over again, and 10 is free, but by 11 and 12 you should be applying the principles of calculation.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:16 AM on June 8, 2008


freebird, are you saying that you have a math degree and have to resort to a calculator to determine 8x9 or 7x8? Or are you refering to some recondite sense of learning multiplication tables (like from 13 to 20 or something?)
posted by MattD at 10:17 AM on June 8, 2008


I actually remember when I memorized the multiplication tables. I'm with decoherence--I found it best to just stare at the table and go over-and-over it until it is memorized, and maybe go over it again-and-again to cement it in. But maybe the CD could be used for a fun self-test for the kids.

Following the links, I found an amusing Hip Hop Shakespeare.

In my day we used Cliff Notes.
posted by eye of newt at 10:19 AM on June 8, 2008


I'm the denominator dominating every MC
Times three I represent to n-th degree

posted by milkrate at 10:48 AM on June 8, 2008


We sang our multiplication tables when I was in the fourth grade ( I am forty-nine now, you do the math) and I also used this method when I homeschooled.

Some kids learn better by auditory means. And singing definitely helps memorization.

Meanwhile i was still ADDING numbers on my FINGERS when I was a senior in high school struggling with algebra. I know for a fact that if I had been stronger on the basic skills in math I might have been better at it. I started school right as the "new math" was being introduced, and it messed me up big time.
posted by konolia at 11:12 AM on June 8, 2008


> Is "Conjunction Junction" then trying to teach basic concepts in grammar? To ten year olds? But why?

A large part of teaching is engagement and reinforcement. Getting kids to learn is not very hard. It's what their little brains are programmed to do. Getting them to focus on what you're trying to teach them is hard, and getting them to care enough about it to come back to it when it is no longer new, is even harder still.

It doesn't and shouldn't mean that something like this should be considered the magic solution to teaching kids math. A good teacher is one who has as many tricks up their sleeves as they have kids in their classroom.

The problem with memorization based teaching is not using it as a teaching method, it's when it becomes a substitute for measuring what a child has learned. There's a huge difference.

And to those of you with math degrees who think there's a better way...please to be spending a year teaching kids. The world needs you.

Mostly though, i hope this isn't looked at as a way to teach "inner city kids" (read:black kids). Keep in mind that the majority of consumers of hip hop are white kids, and to kids young enough to benefit from this are more likely not think of it as "hip hop" music anyway. It's just music. They havent been around long enough to remember pop music sounding any other way...

and to whover asked "Do we really want bankers in the year 2050 to be computing rates of return by rapping Notorious BIG songs?"

I think bankers today should probably be required to learn BIG'sTen Crack Commandments
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:38 AM on June 8, 2008


freebird, are you saying that you have a math degree and have to resort to a calculator to determine 8x9 or 7x8?

I don't have a math degree, but I have taken a lot of advance math classes. You don't need to memorize a times table to know that 8 * 9 = 23 * 33 = 9*23 = 18*22 = 36*21 = 72. Similarly 7 times 8 is 7*23 so you just double seven three times (14,24,56).

My mom tried to teach me the times tables once, but all I remembered was the 9s (since they were so easy, and I didn't memorize them so much as learn the pattern x*9 = x*10 - 10 + (10 - x))

Most of the math you can do using a times table can be done pretty easily in your head without one. It might take a little longer (maybe a few seconds for me) but for doing simple math doesn't require a calculator, at least not now. If you know the prime factors of the numbers 1 - 10, plus a few patterns for multiplying you can figure out most of the cells in the times table.

I'm not saying I couldn't do it more quickly if I had memorized a times table, but it's not like you need a memorized times table or a calculator.
posted by delmoi at 11:46 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


When they ask you to do addition
They may say "plus" or "add" or "and"
But I know they all mean the very same thing
Get ready; do addition with the rockin' rap band

(Yeah? Yeah. Awright.)
posted by decagon at 12:41 PM on June 8, 2008


I think, similar to billyfleetwood, that rote memorization should not be the end-all-be-all of mathematics education, but it is a very good foundation for learning more advanced stuff because then you don't have to worry about it. Just Knowing answers to basic arithmetic (like 8+7, 6*4, etc) means that you don't have to sidetrack from the original problem to figure these things out. My high-school algebra teacher (same one for alg 1&2, and later for calc 1) taught a VERY theory-based math class, with proofs and definitions and reasons for everything, because "that's how you get the answer" was never good enough. The first week of every class was an intensive arithmetic review where we had to know every perfect square to 900, times tables to 15*15, and 2-9^5, because "then we can focus on more important things, because you will just know the arithmetic"
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 1:51 PM on June 8, 2008


freebird, are you saying that you have a math degree and have to resort to a calculator to determine 8x9 or 7x8?

Nope - and your assumption that one has to use a calculator or a memorized answer illustrates much of what I hate about most math education. I think of 8*9 as 8 less than 8*10, which is pretty easy and fast, and a much more useful and generalizable concept. It also works for 138*9, which noone memorizes. I deal with calculation every day as part of my job - practical computation, not abstract math. And it's really rare for me to need to do something like 8*9 in my head.

So yes, I think memorizing multiplication tables is not only a waste of time but is in fact counter-productive it generally prevents people from "learning their way around numbers". Really - what purpose does it serve beyond forcing kids to submit to authority and to accept that learning will be a soulless chore they must complete before they get to do something fun?
posted by freebird at 2:40 PM on June 8, 2008


All of which is mostly orthogonal to that fact that this is pretty rad and I like it.

8 times 5 is tha big 4-0.
posted by freebird at 3:53 PM on June 8, 2008


This same idea was part of the plot of a Cosby Show episode. Denise visits an elementary school classroom where the teacher raps the times tables to kids over a live drummer (although "rap" or "hip hop" was never mentioned because Cosby hated the hipping and the hopping and the kids don't understand the JAZZ, here's this week's geriatric jazz musician guest star to explain it), and decides she wants to become a teacher, but doesn't think she needs to get a degree to do so because she can just do stuff like rap the times tables, and of course this idea is dismissed as silly.

Anyway, stuff like this generally doesn't work, because kids see it as old people trying and failing to be cool by appropriating their culture, and thus dismiss it as dorky. It's the same kind of thing as the "Spiderman says say no to drugs!" comic books they handed out when I was a kid.
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:43 PM on June 8, 2008


Except: this is better as hip-hop than those were as comic books.
posted by freebird at 6:18 PM on June 8, 2008


I would like to take this opportunity to lead everyone in a rousing (yet always hypnotic!) chorus of "Mexico DF, Mexico; Guatemala, Guatemala; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Ciudad de Panama, Panama. BADABADABADABADABADABADA-CHING!" also, if you know how the rest of the rap goes, please PLEASE MeMail me. It's been killing me for years.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:40 PM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


...if you know how the rest of the rap goes...

Well, you know who might know, would be MeFi's own micayetoca, and even if he doesn't know, you're still advised to check out some of his wonderful musical offerings, many of them in his native Spanish.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:40 PM on June 8, 2008


This thread is dead, but I find the idea of this obnoxious and revolting for completely different reasons than anyone else in this thread.

In D.C. in the summers, there's some company that sells rap CDs that parks a van in the center of the business district and blasts one of their CDs over and over. It's someone with a very stereotypical hip hop voice and cadence reciting the state capitals over a drumbeat.

The message that it sends is that the kids can't/won't memorize 50 pieces of information unless its put to them in music. But they should still memorize them if for no other reason than to train their minds in the process of memorizing abstract information.

Funny how kids don't seem to have any problem memorizing the characters on their tv shows or video games. A two year old has no problem memorizing the names and appearances of dozens of Thomas the Tank Engine trains, but can't be expected to remember the names of nine (or eleven) planets, of the identity of half a dozen kinds of tree in their backyard.

The notion that kids don't have to memorize the multiplication tables because we have computers to do computation for us is beyond ignorant. People have had abacuses for thousands of years, then slide rules, etc. and it was still worthwhile to memorize them then.

The reason you memorize the multiplication tables is so that the patterns in the tables, for example the relationships between the 2, 3, and 6's, the 4's, etc. will become apparent to the child on their own in the course of time. Just like it's worthwhile for a child to see a picture of a farm to understand farms, it is worthwhile to see the landscape of multiplication to understand what happens to numbers when you multiply them.

Likewise, when you memorize the table, and then just visualize it in your mind, you start to notice the things that are missing from it, like 11, 19, and all the other primes (although they don't know that word yet). You start to notice that some numbers show up a lot, like 24, and others infrequently, like 21.

And when the child thinks about the table, these patterns, i.e., the numbers missing from the table, the numbers that appear often or not often in the table etc, all become part of the memory of the multiplication table. And the child begins to learn things about mathematics, completely independently, from the simple act of repeatedly recalling the dumb multiplication table.

If it were religion, we would say you take your passage from the bible or you zen koan or whatever, and you pray on it or meditate on it. Math isn't religion, but the iterative process of thought is the same. You think about a thing, you see it in your mind, and your mind becomes so familiar with this conjured image that it can detect new patterns it it.

It is this same reason that kids memorize the postulates of geometry, the formulae for conic sections, etc. This is why they should memorize the names of common birds and trees in their area, why they should memorize various types of insects, why they should memorize the continents and oceans and planets and stupid state capitals.

To generalize, you memorize the dataset so you can develop insights about it. These insights are new ideas about the data that you personally haven't had before. Memorization is the basis of inquiry, investigation and answer. It allows you to formulate and answer your own intelligent, probing questions.

Otherwise, education is nothing more than instructions for using tools.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:01 AM on June 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


"You don't need to memorize a times table to know that 8 * 9 = 23 * 33 = 9*23 = 18*22 = 36*21 = 72. Similarly 7 times 8 is 7*23 so you just double seven three times (14,24,56)."

You don't need to memorize a times table to know that 8 * 9 = 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 +8 either. But you know what? Memorizing the times table is way goddamn easier. I just find it odd that people are recommending that kids not learn to get the answers to simple multiplication problems the easy way, but are instead recommending more time-consuming ways, like using computers / calculators or factoring every problem out. It's like y'all want math to be hard for kids. As if we don't have enough problems with kids avoiding the hard sciences already.
posted by Bugbread at 3:03 PM on June 9, 2008


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