Learning Curve: Hip Hop Math


It's FCAT season. The writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test was administered last week. Reading, science and mathematics tests are scheduled in March. As part of WUSF's ongoing series 'The Learning Curve,' we check in at Just Elementary where students are singing - all the way to test day.

A hip-hop version of the multiplication tables is the top CD playing at Just Elementary. Principal Tricia McManus used grant money to buy the 'Smart Shorties' Math Facts for every classroom including physical education.

Engaging instruction is one of McManus' keys to improving the school's F grade with the state.

Just Elementary teacher Melinda Hipley learned about the CD from her aunt, a teacher in Tennessee.

'After I saw the reaction of the third graders in the first class we used it, I saw it carried out of the classroom. I heard them singing it at lunch,' Hipley says.

She shared her find. And by the beginning of this school year, everyone was playing the CD while kids waited for buses, in gym class or during lunch.

But, Hipley didn't stop there. She started corresponding with the CD producers offering suggestions.

Christine Smith is CEO and cofounder of Spark the Mind, the company that produced the Smart Shorties CD. She developed the idea of hip hop times-tables while teaching math to struggling students in Toledo, Ohio.

Smith and a friend Al E. Cat, music producer Alex Nesmith, to create a CD that would sound professional, not 'corny.'

The duo came to Tampa to re-record the threes multiplication tables. They auditioned more than 100 Just students looking for original lyrics, dance moves, vocal quality. Seven were selected. The students also got official ASCAP recording contracts and will receive royalties from the CD sales. And, they know their multiplication tables.

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