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All the single digits
December 9, 2010 8:10 AM   Subscribe

"A few weeks ago, my alge­bra class was assigned a project called “Math­e­matic Karaoke,” for which were told to pick a song, make it about num­bers (and stuff), and record our­selves singing it. [....] Of course, Sin­gle Ladies was my tune of choice."
posted by borkencode (47 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was all about this until I pushed play.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:13 AM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Since when are 14-year-olds allowed to use the internet!?
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:13 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great lyrics and for a young person that can't really sing, it was serviceable though slightly hilarious that they added autotune.
posted by mathowie at 8:15 AM on December 9, 2010


Son of Wilco!
posted by chavenet at 8:17 AM on December 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Aww, that's cute.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:18 AM on December 9, 2010


For some reason the line, "ten on your little bitty toes," struck me as viscerally wretched.
posted by cmoj at 8:19 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Graaaaaaaaaaaar, autotune. Other than that, I love it. Great idea from the teacher.
posted by Memo at 8:19 AM on December 9, 2010


In 7th grade (1988-ish), our class' science teacher had all of her students take part in a show in front of everyone in the school auditorium in which we performed variety bits she'd written about some of the various principles and readings we'd done. My part was in a group of other boys rapping about angiosperms. I vaguely remember the "Mitosis Dance" as well and a number of skits.

I know she videotaped it, because we had an excruciating class the next day where we had to watch the entire show, which she beamed the whole way through. Now, I'd absolutely love to get my hands on it.
posted by phong3d at 8:26 AM on December 9, 2010


I always hated when teachers did shit like this. The teacher gets points for being original, while the students get to spend their time working on something that has nothing to do with the course at all.

This is not the kind of thing we should be encouraging. It's inane, and does absolutely nothing to benefit the students. Creative teaching methods should still serve to teach.
posted by FuzzyLumpkins at 8:28 AM on December 9, 2010 [11 favorites]


Beyonce is tyranny.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:31 AM on December 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why hello there social anxiety disorder!!

I applaud the performance, but yeah, this would be one of those projects that I decide to get an F on rather than perform. There were lots of those.
posted by odinsdream at 8:36 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Graaaaaaaaaaaar, autotune.

Really? 14 year old white boys singing Bey­oncé is when Autotune should be required by law.
posted by Gary at 8:36 AM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


We had to do a song for our high school chemistry project. So a few of us formed a punk band and did a cover of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K." I don't remember the full lyrics, but I definitely did scream this chorus: "And Iiiiii!!!! Wanna bond!!! Covalently!!!"

That was the exact moment punk died.

Also, the guitarist keep trying to light me on fire. Fuck that guy.
posted by naju at 8:37 AM on December 9, 2010 [29 favorites]


It would be sweet if they let shy nerds do math to obtain credit in performance arts classes.
posted by exogenous at 8:42 AM on December 9, 2010 [10 favorites]


It would be sweet if they let shy nerds do math to obtain credit in performance arts classes.

Most shy nerds probably aren't enrolling in performance arts classes.
posted by kingbenny at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2010


It's inane, and does absolutely nothing to benefit the students.

I have an extremely musical memory. Like, name a jingle from the past 20 years and I can probably sing it for you.

Wanna know the approximate value of R in the equation PV=nRT? It's slightly over 8.3 J/mol*K. And I know that because of a stupid chemistry performance.

I don't think it's inane to tap into different styles of memorization.
posted by muddgirl at 9:00 AM on December 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


So. One day in math class my junior year of high school our teacher, Mr. Lambert, decided to open the period with a little cover song he came up with:

Let's give them something to talk about
A little mystery to figure out
Let's give them something to talk about
How about logs - Loooo-oooo-oooogs!


I still sing it that way whenever I hear it on the radio.
posted by xbonesgt at 9:03 AM on December 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


"I always hated when teachers did shit like this."

Had a tough time in Middle School, eh? :)
posted by HuronBob at 9:13 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, no, this is sad.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:15 AM on December 9, 2010


"This is not the kind of thing we should be encouraging. It's inane, and does absolutely nothing to benefit the students. Creative teaching methods should still serve to teach."

Oh, the blanket. She is wet.

Oh, the stick. She is in the mud.

Oh, the fun. She is hated.
posted by klangklangston at 9:17 AM on December 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


I never found this sort of thing fun. It's easy for a teacher to say, "Today you're going to write a cute song about the Peloponnesian War. Oh, and you're going to be performing your songs in the auditorium in front of the other classes, so there's some incentive to make it good You've got thirty minutes," when they aren't the one that has to perform. I never saw ONE of my teachers in elementary, middle, or high school get up on stage and make a damn fool of themselves in the name of "creative learning" or some other bullshit, but I certainly saw a lot of them delight in making us all scramble around like terrified puppies.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 9:27 AM on December 9, 2010


My daughter did something similar last year, adapted Hannah Montana's "I Got Nerve" for 9th grade biology. But she did hers on ukulele, live in front 30 9th graders. That's nerve.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:29 AM on December 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't think it's inane to tap into different styles of memorization.
Then make it optional.

Oh, the fun. She is hated.
It's not fun. BS like this is the reason I basically dropped out in 7th grade. The absence of BS like this is the reason I excelled in college and grad school.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:39 AM on December 9, 2010


That was the exact moment punk died.

Also, the guitarist keep trying to light me on fire. Fuck that guy.


We're going to have to have a little talk sometime about what "punk" means.
posted by The World Famous at 9:42 AM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not fun.

Well, this kid clearly had fun. I'm sorry 7th grade sucked for you, but some kids actually do respond to this kind of thing.
posted by kingbenny at 9:42 AM on December 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Respond positively, I mean. Anyway, despite it all, it seems you've turned out to be a cool guy.
posted by kingbenny at 9:44 AM on December 9, 2010


muddgirl: And I know that because of a stupid chemistry performance.

And I will never forget Lagrangian mechanics after my colleagues demonstrated that "d/dt dL/d(xdot) is equal to dL/dx" can be sung to Pink Floyd -- in lieu of "we don't need no education," appropriately enough.

All in all it's just a...nother trick for the qual!

(Still not convinced this should count as math homework, though.)
posted by Westringia F. at 9:46 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyway, despite it all, it seems you've turned out to be a cool guy.
One wonders how much cooler I might be had my formative years included actual instruction geared toward non-kindergartners.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:52 AM on December 9, 2010


I don't think it's inane to tap into different styles of memorization.

There's nothing here to memorize or learn. "Slope" and "rate of change" are given without definitions. Even the bit about the number line is kind of useless because he went for the catchy "little bitty toes" line instead of something educational. Having the kids write a song about a few concepts might be useful. Having them write a parody song about "math" is busywork.

Good on the kid for having fun with a stupid assignment, but there was no actual math taught.
posted by Gary at 9:54 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did this help anyone gain math skills, no. Did this help students bond, perhaps. I could totally see doing something like this if I had a class that was not working well together. School is more then just math, science, english, and PE. There is no "how to interact with other students and have self confidence class" so teachers take it on them selves.
posted by Felex at 9:56 AM on December 9, 2010


There's nothing here to memorize or learn.

As Felex mentions above, there's more to learning than just memorizing. But I certainly get the usefulness of using catchy jingles to help memorize.

There's a whole piece of 'engagement' involved - if it helps get the gets more interested in the subject, is that so bad?
posted by kingbenny at 9:59 AM on December 9, 2010


get the KIDS more interested.
posted by kingbenny at 9:59 AM on December 9, 2010


There's a whole piece of 'engagement' involved - if it helps get the gets more interested in the subject, is that so bad?

I get that. The only time I didn't hate french class was when we had to write and act our own group skits. But even then the teacher graded us on using certain vocabulary words and pronouncing them properly.
posted by Gary at 10:12 AM on December 9, 2010


I never found this sort of thing fun.

For the sake of argument, I'm going to pretend that all kids DO find it fun, because -- though, of course, not all do -- I think there's a more interesting thing to talk about than whether a specific kid finds it fun or not. Imagine a class in which you could sing a song, write a short story, paint a picture or do one of several other projects -- and that at least one choice seemed fun to you.

some kids actually do respond to this kind of thing.

Agreed, but -- to me -- the point of a class is not to get the students to respond. It's to get them to understand the class's subject better than they did before they took the class.

It IS true that, most of the time, people can't learn (or have a very hard time learning) if they're not enthusiastic about the subject. But this truth often leads teachers down a seductive, treacherous path. The lie is that if students are having ARBITRARY fun in the class, they're enthusiastic about the subject.

I had lots of boring teachers. I also had some really entertaining teachers. But I didn't learn much (and I didn't notice my peers learning much) if they were just arbitrarily entertaining.

I had a Social Studies teacher who told funny stories. They had nothing to do with the subject, but he was a really good storyteller, so I stayed awake in his class (while he was telling the stories). His class was known to be fun, and he was popular. He never had behavior problems in his class. He was beloved by students, staff and parents. Believe me, I was very happy to spend time in his class, because, generally, the alternative was a boring drone or a martinet. But I didn't learn an iota of the subject-matter from him.

(There's a category-mistake here: conflating time-spent-in-a-classroom with The Subject. It would be like thinking that you could get someone to like C-SPAN by getting them to like TV. Just show them an hour of some exciting drama -- and then switch to C-SPAN. What will happen is that they'll be excited during the drama and bored during C-SPAN. It get more confusing if you show them a sitcom about C-SPAN before switching over. Again, they'll be entertained and then bored, but since the sitcom was "about C-SPAN" you might be tempted to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.)

Similarly, teachers "teach" Shakespeare by taking their students to see a play or showing them a movie -- hopefully something with just a few seconds of verse for every five minutes of pageantry. They agree it isn't really Shakespeare, but "at least the kids are getting a taste of it" and "this will start them down a path." Generally, it doesn't. Because when -- if -- they actually become interested in the real thing, they hit that wall of hard-to-understand words and phrases that is part of a modern person's plight if he really gets into Shakespeare. They never learned to like it in the first place. They learned to like (or probably already liked) pageantry.

In a way, our whole culture is based around this -- the C in culture anyway. It's too often (for my tastes) based on keeping-up-appearance. People go to see "Hamlet" so they can say they went to see "Hamlet." A lot of school is like this: let's all say we had a math class. We'll be good and entertaining and, before too long, it will be over. And then we can say we did it. Which is to say that school is often more ritualistic than pedagogical.

I do feel for teachers (I was one for years). It's much easier to do this spoon-full-of-sugar stuff than to help students find enthusiasm FOR THE ACTUAL SUBJECT. And if they don't find ANY enthusiasm, it will look like it's the teacher's fault. So there's a tremendous pressure on teachers to put on a gratuitous sideshow. Unless they are very brave, teachers have just two choices: (1) give no expectation of joy ("just turn in your damn homework") or (2) promise joy of any type (the teacher becomes the class clown).

Here's the truth: math has intrinsic qualities that many (not all) people, given enough understanding of some core concepts, will naturally find seductive. A teacher's first job should be to ask himself, "What's the smallest amount of math I can teach someone before he, potentially, will see the beauty of the subject?"

Then comes the REALLY hard part: recognizing that there are people out there that will never be turned on by math (or sports or Shakespeare or whatever). This is a treacherous fact, because, if accepted, it can lead teachers to give up too early ("He's just one of those kids who's never going to like math") When I teach, I try to hold that fact somewhere in the back of my mind but ignore it. I assume that EVERYONE can find joy in my subject. That's not true, but if I assume it, I'll keep trying until I absolutely succeed or fail. Teachers should teach the way Jack Nicholson tries to lift that sink in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Sometimes, really good teaching happens when students learns that a subject is not for him. If you've learned what makes a particular student tick, plugged your teaching into THAT, and pumped it full of subject-joy -- and yet the student still isn't into it -- he will have learned something really, really valuable about himself. Which is a long-winded way of saying "You can't know if you like or dislike something until you try it." (If you know you're not a math person, but understand that math is sometimes necessary, you can structure your life with that knowledge in mind.) But you have to REALLY try it.

For years, I was SURE I wasn't a math person. Teachers tried, but not hard enough. They were all drill-sergeants or vaudeville performers (or kindly uncles or whatever). I don't remember a single one even trying to move me towards finding joy IN THE SUBJECT.

I thought they tried and succeeded, and, from their "success," I learned that math and me don't belong in the same room. But, years later, I have come back to math and now can see it's beauty. And I can see that I COULD have seen in as a kid, if my teachers had gotten to know me better and had worked hard to teach the joy of math -- rather than the tedium of it or the joy of something unrelated (or "related" via word-association).

The worst thing about our terrible education system is that it punishes failure. Not only is that insane from a pedagogical standpoint, but it also sets people up for a lifetime of seeing failure as a bad thing, instead of as what it really is: one of the best ways to learn. You can't lose a fight with a bear by not fighting the bear. You have to fight the bear. And -- who knows? -- you might win!
posted by grumblebee at 10:33 AM on December 9, 2010 [13 favorites]


Well, this kid clearly had fun. I'm sorry 7th grade sucked for you, but some kids actually do respond to this kind of thing.

I think what most of us are having in terms of visceral negative reactions isn't "this works for some people, not for others" but "everyone is forced to do this, even those who hate and despise it." There are a lot of things I'm good at; singing is not one of them. I am extremely aware of this today, and was even more hyper-aware of it in my adolescence. If I'd had this assignment in middle school, it would have been painful and humiliating, and I would have learned exactly nothing.

7th grade sucked for me. This is not necessarily an inherent property of 7th grade, but this kind of shit is one reason it does. Forcing people to do things they don't like, or aren't good at, in public, in front of their peers, is torture, at any age but especially at that age. And I don't have any social anxiety problems; hell, I volunteered to read bits of plays out loud all the time, because I like performing. But mandatory art and song and dance shit in classes where it wasn't even the goddamn subject is one of my memories of school that still resounds with shame and horror, more than a decade later.

Look, it's cool that this kid did a fun thing. Good for her. But her description of the assignment certainly makes it seem like it was mandatory, and that makes it pretty fucking awful in my book.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


At first I wondering how could 15 year olds in the United States could score nearly dead last in math on the PISA test. I think I see part of the problem now.
posted by anniecat at 11:13 AM on December 9, 2010


There are a fair number of students who do well sitting in a math class taking notes and then practicing with homework assignments, for whom the "sing and dance" type of assignment is torture. There are also a fair number of students who excel at "sing and dance," but sitting in class every day taking notes and doing problems out of the book is torture. Does that mean the taking notes/practice with book work method shouldn't be mandatory to those students who seriously, intensely hate that method? We tend to tell those students that they need to suck it up and deal with it, but why do the ones who hate performance get a pass?

Everything is a public performance at that age. The kids who do well at "singing and dancing" assignments might feel just as embarrassed every day in regular math class that they don't understand the concepts because they don't learn by taking notes. They probably feel like everyone is judging them for asking the stupid question, or answering a problem wrong up at the board, or getting an F on their test. At least this type of assignment lets those types of kids, at least for one day, feel like they can do well in that class.

I'm not saying that a teacher's goal ought to be making every student equally miserable, but that it's important to balance students' needs. Absolutely this was an embarrassing assignment, and I would want to die if I had to sing in front of someone. But trying to create an assignment that everyone likes and that everyone learns the maximum amount from is tilting at windmills. Just because the assignment doesn't press your buttons doesn't mean it's useless busywork; calling it that marginalizes the people who do learn that way.
posted by lilac girl at 12:41 PM on December 9, 2010


Just because the assignment doesn't press your buttons doesn't mean it's useless busywork; calling it that marginalizes the people who do learn that way.

It's busywork because the song didn't actually teach math beyond "5+5+10=20". If the teacher found a creative way to teach math concepts through song and dance that would be great. But this is the equivalent of handing out a search-a-word to find "Addition", "Subtraction" and "Graphs". It occupies the kids for a little while for a few days but no one learned anything or cares any more about Math in the end.
posted by Gary at 3:13 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


err, not for a few days... I would hope
posted by Gary at 3:14 PM on December 9, 2010


Hey -- if something helps a student wrap their heads around a subject, whatever it is, it works. I know that I was able to successfully autopsy a frog because of a poem I wrote to help myself synthesize that information.

....And I feel like I should be leaving this here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:47 PM on December 9, 2010


It's busywork because the song didn't actually teach math beyond "5+5+10=20".

I don't understand why more people aren't getting this.
posted by anniecat at 5:07 PM on December 9, 2010


My wife and I play a lyrics substitution game in which we change 'lady' to 'baby', and pretend the song is about our baby. All the single babies, and, dude looks like a baby... My favorites so far.
posted by MNDZ at 6:51 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Spencer's blog is always a fun read, and he's a great photographer.
posted by mike3k at 8:29 PM on December 9, 2010


I would have LOVED this assignment in 7th grade. I would also have loved it in kindergarten, and in grad school. In fact, I might go do it right now.
posted by millipede at 6:56 AM on December 10, 2010


I don't understand why more people aren't getting this.

It was because we had terrible teachers in our formative years who gave us really stupid assignments and now we can't really even understand anything. It's good that you do though.
posted by kingbenny at 7:08 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heeee!

A) I was disappointed there was no dancing.
B) Now I can encourage my 5 yr old daughter to enjoy 'Single Ladies' without thinking I'm encouraging her to put a c*ck ring on it in her adult life . . .
posted by MeiraV at 8:47 AM on December 10, 2010


Metafilter: more ritualistic than pedagogical
posted by ElGuapo at 10:37 AM on December 10, 2010


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