2009 California Teacher of the Year
Top 4 Finalist for National Teacher of the Year
The Rappin' Mathematician
What got you interested in math?
When I was in the 10th grade, I missed a few days of geometry class due to illness. When I returned, I had no idea what was going on. Instead of going in after school and asking for help, I began to sink deeper and deeper into cluelessness. Quickly, my cluelessness turned to apathy, and when it was time to take the end-of-semester, I sat in front of it for an hour, not knowing how to do a single problem. It was a horrible feeling. It was a Friday, and the next day, I went to the library with my geometry book, and spent my entire Saturday figuring out what was happening. As I began to teach myself the math, I fell in love with it, and knew that I wanted to be a math teacher. I also realized that so many of our students don't get the help they need, and instead, declare themselves "bad at math," and begin to live a life without it. This is a great detriment to our schools, and society.
What could teachers have done to make math more enjoyable/useful for you while in school?
I had great teachers! However, promoting the real-world relevance of mathematics is the key to student success. Our students should never leave our classes wondering how what they just learned has to do with their lives.
What are the keys to your success as a math teacher?
Instead of trying to force our curriculum into our students' lives, we need to fit our students' lives into the curriculum. I'm always asking myself, "What is happening in my students' lives that is important to the content that I am about to teach?"
What obstacles have you had to overcome teaching math?
The schools that I have taught in have a large percentage of students who receive free and reduced price lunch, and poverty, gang recruitment and low academic performance is often an issue.
How do you structure your classes?
My classes are pretty traditional in their format; however, that's about the change in a BIG way with the Common Core Standards! I'll keep you posted, as we're just now beginning to implement.
Is there a favorite unit or project that you teach? Could you please describe the topics covered and why it is one of your favorites?
I love teaching integers. Here's a link to me teaching a lesson on The Teaching Channel: Math Teaching Techniques
What kind of technology do you use in you classes?
Over the years, I've used a SMART Board, laptops and am now beginning to look at i-pads. However, a class favorite is when I teach the students how to use my Grandfather's abacus!
If you had the power, how would you change the way math is taught at school?
Again, the key is to promote REAL WORLD RELEVANCE first. Then, the math serves the conversation; not the other way around.
About the Author:
Alex Kajitani is the 2009 California Teacher of the Year, and a Top-4 Finalist for National Teacher of the Year. Known around the country as "The Rappin' Mathematician," his CDs and Workbooks are being used in thousands of homes and classrooms around the world (available at www.MathRaps.com).
Alex speaks across the country to afterschool professionals, teachers, and education groups. He has been featured on the CBS Evening News, has been honored at The White House, and is a leading authority on providing educators with easy-to-implement teaching strategies to close the achievement gap. His recent TED Talk, "Making Math Cool" is receiving rave reviews!
Alex is the author of The Teacher of the Year Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Making the Most of Your Teacher-Leader Role, and a contributing author for Chicken Soup: Teacher Tales. He coaches teachers in the Escondido Union School District, in some of California's poorest neighborhoods. Check out his website at: www.AlexKajitani.com