Rap teaching gains popularity at Montgomery Blair -- Gazette.Net


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When Jake Scott was in high school, he struggled to maintain good grades. He was the youngest of 17 children. His mother had polio, and his father went blind when Scott was a child.

Through his ninth-grade year at Suitland High School, Scott had below a 1.0 grade point average and got into trouble.

Then, he joined the wrestling team, and everything changed.

Scott learned the values of discipline, hard work and dedication. He also grew passionate about mathematics and eventually earned a wrestling scholarship to American University.

About the only thing he didn't learn how to do while transforming his life for the better was rap.

That came later.

“When I first started teaching pre-calculus, I noticed there were some concepts the students weren't getting,” Scott said. “So I wrote a rap because I know how much music can help with memory. But I went into it completely cold. I have zero musical talent. My talent was limited to singing along.”

Now Scott — a math teacher and wrestling coach at Montgomery Blair High School whose alter ego is 2 Pi — has produced eight rap videos for his classes and is garnering quite the cult following among his students and peers.

His most recent video entitled, “Undefined Expressions,” which debuted Sunday night, already had 135 views on YouTube by 8 a.m. Monday. And that was before he debuted the rap at school. His most popular video, at least as far as views are concerned, is titled, “Quadratic Formula,” which was posted in March and samples 50 Cent's “In Da Club.” It has 54,000 views.

“You can listen to a song in one day and remember 30 percent of the lyrics,” said Scott, whose influences are Eminem, Dr. Dre, Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., Kurtis Blow and Parliament-Funkadelic. “I feel like I've really missed an opportunity in the past to capitalize on the fact that music aids in memory. Learning is storage, recall and application of knowledge, and I think if we can aid students in that portion, I should do everything I can to help them with that.”

In his most recent video, many of Blair's teams (including the wrestling team), teachers and students make an appearance as well as his daughter, Pretoria, 3. She's featured as the frightened daughter of a “Mad-matician” who won't stop quizzing her about undefined expressions.

The catchy refrain, repeated by multiple personalities throughout the video goes: “You can't divide by zero. You can't divide by zero. It's undefined because you can't divide by zero.”

But the videos aren't only about dancing, cameos and cute kids. Scott presents actual problems, equations and solutions and uses words and pictures to help his students retain the information. He said since he released his first video in September 2010, he has noticed an increase in many students' ability to grasp difficult concepts. It wasn't easy, however, taking the plunge and showing people his rap about “GraphingTrigFunctions” for the first time.

“I was embarrassed to show the students at first,” said Scott, who also was featured by National Public Radio for his raps. “It was humbling to put myself out there like that. At the end, they didn't know what to do. They were like, 'Do we clap for you? Do you want us to take notes?' It was a little awkward at the beginning, but then videos No. 2 and 3 came from there, and I realized I needed to create learning opportunities.”

Scott certainly has done that for his classes as well as the wrestling team, which he said has far exceeded his expectations this season.

“I think the videos are very good. They made it more fun to learn, and they helped me pretty good,” said 126-pound wrestler Oumarou Bitang. “They were funny, too.”

Scott said it takes him roughly a month to craft a video from start to finish and said he now feels he needs to “step up his game” with every project that's released. In total, the raps on his YouTube channel have received 109,400 views as of Monday morning. Scott said he has math raps running through his head constantly. In future raps, he plans to teach proofs, functions and what sounded like a personal favorite of his: Pi day in the USA.

“This is a quick generation. They want it quick,” he said. “When I first started doing videos, it was like pulling teeth getting people to participate. It's picked up a lot of steam, and it's gotten popular. Kids come up to me and ask to be in the next video. I'm so encouraged when the students want to be a part of it.”

To view all of Scott's videos, search for Jake Scott on YouTube.

ncammarota@gazette.net