Teacher reaches students by rapping

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Teacher reaches students by rapping

Published on August 09 2013

In classrooms all around the world there are teachers struggling to connect with their students, unable to find fun and unique ways to engage their classrooms – especially when it comes to topics and subjects that are unpopular.

Rebecca Cartmell was one of those teachers.

A recent graduate from the Concurrent Education program at Brock University, Cartmell’s passion and ability to connect with her students was impossible to ignore, resulting in a rapid ascent in the teaching world.

Currently a teacher at London South Collegiate Institute in London, ON, “Miss C ” – as she is known to her students – detected that some of her students were struggling with new mathematical concepts that she was introducing. After identifying the roadblocks Cartmell decided it was time blend a subject she taught with a subject she holds dear to her heart: music.

As someone who has always possessed a passion for music, Cartmell successfully and seamlessly merged music into her math lessons, hoping to ease the fears and anxieties that her students were experiencing.

“My students expressed a great interest in pop, hip hop and rap music and were struggling to latch on to the concepts we were learning,” she said. “I thought that by bringing in their experiences outside of the classroom through music the material would become more engaging and their learning would consequently improve.”

By rewriting pop star Nicki Minaj’s hit “Starships” to include lyrics focusing on algebra, Cartmell offered a unique take on the world of mathematics that her students could relate to.

“After I performed the ‘Algebra Rap' song the students were so full of excitement about math class - they started to enjoy coming every morning and their performance and engagement improved drastically,” said Cartmell. “For students who struggle with school attending class is difficult for them; creating an atmosphere that is fun and open to creativity inspired these students to want to attend class and take responsibility for their learning.”

However, this wasn’t Cartmell’s first foray into lyrical teaching as she has used this practice on several other occasions; re-writing songs such as One Republic’s “Apologize and Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”. Most recently Cartmell and her students have collaborated on “Mathematics Paradise” a re-write from the then-popular Coolio song “Gangster’s Paradise” featured in the movie Dangerous Minds.

The response to Cartmell’s educational song parodies has been incredibly positive and everyone is taking notice of her effective, creative method.

“Many students at my school have really taken an interest to what my students and I are doing in the classroom,” she said. “I've had a few teachers approach me expressing an interest in my approach to teaching, hoping to be inspired with creativity for their own practice.”

Cartmell notes that her incorporation of music into the classroom isn’t something out of the ordinary, at least not in terms of a identifying and applying a unique teaching style. Instead, Cartmell views it is an avenue that suits her skill set and teaching style – something that will vary from teacher to teacher.

“Every teacher has a different style for teaching, and we all bring our own uniqueness to the classroom,” she said. “For me, using music is an easy approach, and for others it might be art, movement, technology, story-telling, the list goes on.”

Whether it’s a song, a story or anything in-between, Cartmell subscribes to three important philosophies that she advises aspiring teachers to incorporate into their classrooms: enthusiasm, passion and creativity.

“If you got those three things you will find a way to excite kids, even just a little bit,” she said. “None of them can be forced, but they can all be developed and in order to ignite them you’ve got to have a deep understanding for your ‘why’ – your purpose for choosing education and wanting to be an educator.”

Rap is but a fraction of Cartmell's approach to teaching math

Rebecca Cartmell has created a fun, unique learning environment for her math students and has seen an increase in excitement and engagement.