CARLSBAD — Math often gets a bad rap from elementary and middle school students, most of whom find the subject more challenging than English and social studies.
However, one local math teacher refuses to let that be the norm.
Carlsbad resident Alex Kajitani has found a way to bring the difficult subject to life in a way that not only captured his students’ attention, but also helped them enjoy the subject — Math Raps.
“I like to say that (Math Raps) started out of desperation,” he said. “I was a new teacher and I couldn’t get the students to pay attention or stay on task.”
Kajitani had noticed his students at Mission Middle School in Escondido quickly learning the lyrics to rap songs, while failing to recall any information just covered in class. As a fellow rap fan, he decided to try his hand at composing a catchy song about adding and subtracting decimals. The end result, and his first rap composition, was “The Itty Bitty Dot.”
“I performed it for them and it was an absolute disaster,” Kajitani said, as he recalled how futile his efforts seemed at the time.
Though later that afternoon, he noticed his students singing it in the lunchroom — even students that hadn’t been at his inaugural performance as the “Rappin’ Mathematician.” Kajitani’s students filtered in the next day, “totally excited to be there,” asking when he was going to rap again, he said.
Kajitani decided it was worth giving his Math Raps another shot. When the Rappin’ Mathematician performed a new song, it quickly caught on among his students. He saw his students become more confident in class and watched their test scores soar.
“I don’t think it’s about rap music — it’s about connecting with kids on their level,” he said. “All I’m doing is putting math in a format that kids already love.”
Unlike most current rap music, his catchy songs also reinforce a positive attitude and healthy living choices. With the support of the school board, he tells kids that they don’t have to do or say everything that they see on TV just to feel cool.
“I hope my students see me going forward with confidence so they will too,” he said. “When you’re comfortable with yourself, it ends up being the most cool thing of all.”
To Kajitani’s delight, Math Raps has grown exponentially since he first presented “The Itty Bitty Dot” to his students. He now has two recorded CDs, one with an accompanying workbook, which can be used by teachers and parents with struggling students. He also travels the nation, speaking at conferences to share tips on how to make math cool.
“I just want to keep spreading the word about the Rappin’ Mathematician and hopefully help as many students and adults as I can in understanding math,” Kajitani said.
Through his efforts, Kajitani has gained recognition as 2009’s California Teacher of the Year. He was also one of the top four finalists for National Teacher of the Year.
To learn more about Kajitani’s Math Raps, or to purchase one of his CDs, visit www.mathraps.com.