Music News
1:03 am
Tue January 8, 2013

2 Pi: Rhymes And Radii

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 4:29 pm

It's fourth period at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., and students are filing into a classroom at the end of a long hallway. Jake Scott, who doubles as both varsity wrestling coach and math teacher, calls his algebra class to order, but some students are more orderly than others.

Keeping control of the class is one thing, but holding their attention through complicated calculations and theorems is another challenge altogether. So Scott gets a little extra help from his alter ego, 2 Pi.

About three years ago, Scott started infusing rap into his lessons. His alias comes from a math formula, and as 2 Pi the rapping math teacher, Scott makes learning math cool, while also developing a connection with his students.

"Students are bored so quickly," Scott tells NPR's David Greene. "You know, the videos that they watch — they see one person on the screen for more than five seconds, and they're like, 'I'm tired of this guy already,' you know? So I think that I gotta jump around [and] include commercials in there where I'm addressing their personal behavior, I'm addressing relationships, [and] I'm addressing respect for their parents. And I think that all those things have to happen in order for me to maintain the students' attention."

Montgomery Blair is a large suburban high school with a diverse population. Students come from various neighborhoods in the district, some rougher than others. Many students struggle when they first start, as Scott did when he was younger.

"I mean, from seventh through ninth grade, those were lost years," Scott says. "I grew up in Capitol Heights, Md. Status quo there, you know, was you sold drugs, we stole cars. It was just normal. ... I mean, I remember being pulled over for riding on a stolen motorbike, kneeling down on the gravel, just waiting for my parents to come and identify who I was for me to be released. But I mean, that was normal; that was fun."

Scott says his life began to change direction after he joined his high school wrestling team.

"For me, it was wrestling that transitioned my life, when I finally joined a sport and there was a connection," Scott says. "I didn't know what it felt like to be in organized sports. I mean, we played pickup basketball and football on the streets, but, you know, being a part of a team, getting a uniform, getting a physical — I mean, those were huge things. It felt surreal, like, 'Man, I'm with the Redskins now; I got a real uniform!' "

Scott grew up the youngest of 17 children, and both of his parents had physical ailments. His mother had polio, and his father went blind when Scott was still a child. Ironically, his knack for math was a result of his tough upbringing.

"You know, when my dad lost his sight, I started doing accounting for him, and math was the one area that I was able to succeed in," Scott says. "Because of my time in the streets, my vocabulary wasn't very extensive, and so I shied away from English. I was bored to death by history. Math, on the other hand — I didn't need to know how to speak well in order to do well in math, so that was very helpful, when I look back. It helped me to grow in my appreciation for numbers."

Scott says that one of his most important goals as a teacher is to make meaningful connections with his students. This drive to connect with the kids in his classroom influenced him to begin rapping as 2 Pi.

"I mean, I think that we can preach to kids until they turn blue and we turn blue, but if there's no connection, then there's no response," Scott says. "I mean, I constantly search for ways to connect with students — with the language, with conversations, music. Some students are more difficult than others, depending on what they have at home. The interesting thing is, once we have those conversations, that's a connection. And they feel like they've given me a piece of them, and I feel like they've given me a piece of them, and I respect them more. And they respect me more."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Every teacher comes to know this challenge: How do you break through and truly connect with your students? Jake Scott, who teaches high school in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. has had some success by turning to music. Our colleague David Greene went to see and hear how he does it.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: It's fourth period at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, and students are filing into a classroom at the end of a very long hallway.

JAKE SCOTT: All right, guys, here we go. First bell, call you to attention. Second bell, thank you for your cooperation. Third bell, letting you know you have detention.

GREENE: Jake Scott, who covers as both varsity wrestling coach and math teacher, calls his algebra class to order. But some students are more orderly than others.

SCOTT: I already told you guys, this will not work out. You guys don't bring out the best in each other. Don't sit next to each other.

GREENE: Keeping control of the class is one thing, but holding their attention through complicated calculations and theorems is a whole other challenge. And so Jake Scott gets a little extra help from his alter ego, 2 Pi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT: (Rapping) Have a seat, folks, this class is in session. Mr. 2 Pi, can you tell me the objective of this lesson? Students will be able to solve quadratic equations, using the quadratic formula and some simple calculations.

GREENE: About three years ago, Scott started infusing rap and lyrics into his lessons.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT: (Rapping) The value you get is the link to side C. Master these five tools, a triangle expert you'll be. Triangles, one by one...

GREENE: His alias, 2 Pi, comes from a math formula, one that I'm not even going to try to explain. But as 2 Pi, the rapping math teacher, Jake Scott makes learning math cool, and he develops a connection with his students.

SCOTT: Students are bored so quickly. You know, the videos that they watch, they see one person on the screen for more than five seconds, they're like, I'm tired of this guy already. You know, so I think that I got to jump around, include commercials in there where I'm addressing, you know, their personal behavior.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT: (Rapping) What's the quadratic formula? Yeah, we'll get to that, but first remove those shades and that baseball cap.

I'm addressing relationships. I'm addressing respect for their parents. And I think that all those things have to happen in order for me to maintain the students' attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT: (Rapping) When you take the values you get, divide them by 2A...

OK, good. So, we take the square root of B-squared minus 4AC. Then we add it and subtract it with the opposite of B. Take the value you get and divide it - the entire thing by 2A. And that's solving the "Quadratic Formulatic" way. All right?

GREENE: Montgomery Blair is a huge suburban high school with a diverse population. Students come from various neighborhoods, some rougher than others, and many students struggle when they first start.

As I understand it, there's some empathy here. You struggled when you were...

SCOTT: Oh, absolutely.

GREENE: ...when you were a student.

SCOTT: I mean, from seventh through ninth grade, those were lost years. I grew up in Capitol Heights, Maryland. The status quo there, you know, was, you know, you sold drugs. We stole cars. It was just normal.

GREENE: All of that was part of your life, too.

SCOTT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I remember being pulled over for riding on a stolen motorbike, kneeling down on the gravel just waiting for my parents to come and identify who I was for me to be released. I mean, that was normal. That was fun.

GREENE: Fun?

SCOTT: Yeah, it was what was done for fun. And for me, it was wrestling that transitioned my life when I finally joined a sport. And there was a connection. I didn't know what it felt like to be in organized sports. I mean, we played pickup, basketball and football on the streets. But, you know, being a part of a team, getting a uniform, getting a physical, I mean, those were huge things. You know, it felt surreal, like, man, I'm with the Redskins now. I got a real uniform.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT: (Rapping) And with careful calculations, answer three and one. Well, I got six and 10. Come on, son. How'd you get X equals one? Ain't no number in front of X. Please tell that you're kidding, 'cause I'm about to be vexed.

GREENE: Jake Scott grew up the youngest of 17 children, and both of his parents had physical ailments. His father went blind when Jake was still a child. Turns out, his knack for math was a result of his tough upbringing.

SCOTT: You know, when my dad lost his sight, I started doing accounting for him. And math was the one area that I was able to succeed in. Because of my time in the streets, my vocabulary wasn't very extensive, and so I shied away from English. I was bored to death by history. Math, on the other hand, I didn't need to know how to speak well in order to do well in math.

GREENE: And your dad was actually asking you to help, like, pay the bills?

SCOTT: Yes. I mean, I wrote checks, balanced the checkbook.

GREENE: How old were you at that point?

SCOTT: I was, like, 12, 13. See, I was very helpful when I look back. It helped me to grow on my appreciation for numbers.

GREENE: Talk about becoming a man at an early age.

SCOTT: That's right. That's right. So that was pretty challenging, but it was life. You know, it's what needed to be done.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT: Goes by the name of arithmetic and algebra. You know what I'm saying? (unintelligible)

OK, good. Now, guys, I'm going to use this for just one second to talk to you guys about something that's very serious. This is a joke, but in reality, you guys have to use your lunchtime very seriously. You need to be the person who goes down, gets your lunch, brings it back up, and you're studying for quiz one. In all seriousness, it's funny in the video, but this is your life, guys. This is your high school record, and it's following you. All right?

GREENE: Connection seems like a powerful word to you. I mean, is that in the classroom with rapping and (unintelligible).

SCOTT: Yeah. I think that's huge. I mean, I think that, I mean, we can preach to kids until they turn blue and we turn blue. But if there's no connection, then there's no response. I mean, I constantly search for ways to connect with students with the language, with conversations, music. Some students are more difficult than others, depending on their - what they have at home. Some students hate being called by their last name. And so I ask, well, why? You know, and...

GREENE: What's the answer?

SCOTT: Well, there have been different answers. One: I'm named after my dad. I don't like my dad. I don't want that name. The interesting thing is once we have those conversations, that's the connection. And they feel like they've given me a piece of them, and I feel like they've given me a piece of them. And I respect them more. And they respect me more.

GREENE: That's pre-calculus and algebra teacher Jake Scott. He teaches - and raps - at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. He's currently working on his seventh math rap video.

So, we heard the video in the classroom. Can you give us a little in the flesh, out here in the hallway?

SCOTT: OK. (Rapping) Yo, this is 2 Pi, coming at you like Kris Kringle. I'm bringing you gifts to help you solve triangles. If you can solve the tri, then you can solve the problem. You'll be knocking out problems like your last name is Ali. See, the triangle is the mother of all polygons. If you can solve it, then your math game is tight like LeBron's. But if you can't solve triangles, you're a rookie, my friend. You're going to drop the ball. You can say that again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Funny - David Greene didn't sing along with him like he did to Barry Manilow. Anyway, you can watch Jake Scott's math videos at NPRMusic.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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