For my first post (yay!), I’ve decided to share a project I recently completed with my students that started out small, but grew into something big that, in my opinion, truly showcased “learning at its best”.
Many of my colleagues and friends know about or have seen a math rap video I produced with my students entitled “That’s my Log(arithm)” for our state technology conference, LaCUE (Louisiana Association of Coumputer-Using Educators). What many don’t know is the story of how it came to be and how technology enabled my students and I to turn this simple video project into a exciting collaboration. I have believed in the power of educational technology to connect teachers and classrooms for a long time, but this experience really enabled me to show my students and peers the transformative potential that edtech has when placed in the hands of enthusiastic kids.
This story started last year when I won a grant to purchase a “digital kiosk”– a 40-inch television to mount outside of my classroom door to show off my students’ digital media products. My original vision for the TV was to show a never-ending slideshow of student video projects, online posters and other electronic student work. Once the TV was installed, I quickly realized that there was more that could be done. I began adding screenshots of my syllabus to the slideshow, and even found “math rap” videos on YouTube related to what we did in class. Neither my students nor I had any idea just how many math rap videos were out there! A school in Ohio, Westerville South High (WSHS), had created a video called “Teach Me How to Factor” that really stood out because of the videographers’ great editing, attention to mathematical detail, and overall high quality product. Immediately, my students began asking when would we be making one of our own. At the time, the idea seemed so far-fetched that I dismissed the requests and simply continued to share the awesome videos from WSHS with my classes. Early this school year, we discovered another WSHS hit–”Do the Quad Solve!”
I call this video a “hit” not only since it has many thousands of “hits” on YouTube, but because my students really loved it. Every time it came on, whether on the digital kiosk in the hall or when I showed it in class after the kids’ constant requests, it was an instant “math party”! In October of this year, around the time we were about to start a unit on logarithms in my advanced math classes, I heard that we could sign up for our state edtech conference’s student video contest. I knew exactly what we were going to do.
My first step was to contact David Schultz and Tyler Winner, math teachers and masterminds of the WSHS math rap videos to let them know that we loved their videos so much that we wanted to make one of our own. I was hoping we could schedule a Skype call or something to get my kids amped about doing this project. Although we were unable to make the video call happen, Schultz and Winner filmed a short video shout-out to my kids. After seeing all the WSHS videos, my kids knew exactly who they were and felt flattered and excited that they took time to send a message just for us!
In my excitement to hurry and start working on our video, I overlooked the following sentence in the contest rules: “Music is an important element of the movies and we will not accept movies that feature music unless you have legal permission to utilize.” Needless to say, I started freaking out the moment I saw these words as my students had already started recording and we certainly did not have any type of permission, legal or otherwise, to use the song we chose to parody. Being the techie I am, I turned to Google as my first line of defense to try and address this issue. I found our song’s artist, Kourtney Heart (aka K. Hart), a local star who recently signed with Jive Records, via Twitter and Facebook. I contacted her through both, and was even able to find email addresses for her management team online. We continued to work on the video, although I was unsure of how things were going to pan out. My plan was to simply do an “a capella” version of the song minus the copywritten music if things did not work out.
But, they did. Not only was Kourtney’s manager gracious enough to provide the instrumental for our song and a permission letter to submit for the contest, but he also arranged for Kourtney to show up and surprise my students once the video was completed. Needless to say, my kids were stoked when Kourtney showed up on campus. As usual, we had a math party to celebrate, but this time, we had our own soundtrack!
What you see in the above video is the result of hours of hard work on the part of several students who created this great product. I was blown away by the previously hidden talents of kids who stepped up to film, edit, sing, dance, choreograph, write lyrics, and recruit students and teachers to participate in this project. I’ll never forget the day after I told my students what we were trying to do– a kid walked in my classroom first thing in the morning carrying a laptop and the biggest microphone I’d ever seen saying: “this has got to be done right, Mrs. B!” The kids’ school spirit and enthusiasm comes through on screen, just as Mr. Schultz and Mr. Winner’s students’ excitement did, which made us fall in love with their videos. My students and I worked for weeks at lunch and after school as to not interfere with the flow of my classes. Now I can’t get through a class period without someone yelling “put the video on!” or hearing the kids humming and singing about logarithms!
Needless to say, we won the contest. I knew we had a hit on our hands the moment we began this journey, but I never expected it to have the impact it did on me and my kids. And our school. And our community. I teach at a large urban “turnaround” school where there is a lot going on that often overshadows what our kids have to offer beyond “data”. Every day since the release of the video I meet a new student, parent, teacher or complete stranger in person or online who has been touched by our video. I understand that I am a math teacher and that it’s important to teach content, but I think that what we’ve done with this video will stay with many of my students long after they’ve forgotten the math I taught them. We set out to reach a lofty goal, and not only did we reach it, but we met some great people along the way and connected with others who share our passion for what we’re doing. These lessons, I believe are equally , if not more, valuable than the math my kids will learn in my class.