On the Daily: Educational rapper gives math a new beat

Sunday, March 5, 2017 - 9:07pm

Math homework has taken to a new beat recently with the work of SKULE.org not only in Ann Arbor and Detroit, but nationwide. 

SKULE.org — a new education-based nonprofit — released an educational rap video titled “99 Math Problems” mid-February, an homage to Jay-Z's "99 Problems". The video received 400,000 views in its first week and was praised by schoolteachers around the country. Educational rapper Rohen Shah, the founder of SKULE.org and the face of MC SKULE, said as soon as the song was released, he and his team sent it to local school principals in the Ann Arbor and Detroit areas. From there, it reached the national level.

Adhering to the tune of rapper Jay-Z’s original the video features middle schoolers singing and dancing at their school. At the center of the video is MC SKULE, a rapper who encourages students to treat math as an enjoyable challenge, and to not be afraid of attempting problems.

The video discusses fractions, multiplication and other basic math principles.

He said schoolteachers around the country have been messaging the organization to say how much their students have enjoyed the videos.

“Mostly the feedback was that they used it in their classrooms and the students loved it,” he said. “Some even said that it helped some of the students who usually wouldn’t speak out in class make comments.”

Shah added that with enhanced technology today, it’s hard to keep kids engaged in class, when they are more likely to be become addicted to a Netflix show or listen to a song several times.

“Rather than forcing them to pay attention to the math, why not make the math compelling?” he said.

SKULE stands for Spread Knowledge Using Lyrics & Entertainment, as is the company’s mission. According to its website, it aims to build a community of educators and artists to make learning fun for students.

In October, DiagKNOWstics Learning, an Ann Arbor company co-founded by Shah, posted the first MC SKULE video to explain the Electoral College to young voters.

Shah said then the goal of the educational rap tool is to reach students who may be struggling to learn concepts that are not actually difficult but are often presented in a complex way.

“We decided to do something more innovative, something that will grab their attention a little bit more and something to get them excited,” he said. “The goal was to make people laugh a little bit, but then at the end say: ‘Oh wait! That’s all it is. I thought it was so complicated. Wikipedia made it seem so complicated, but that’s all the Electoral College is.’ ”

Looking ahead, Shah said, the team at SKULE.org is working on a video about reading and literacy, they will be performing their songs at school assemblies, and they plan to help students who are looking to make their own educational music videos.

“It’s just as much about the process of making the video that helps with the learning as it is about the end result,” he said. “Definitely, it’s great that thousands of kids can learn better from watching videos but it’s also great that these 20 or 30 kids who were a part of the video got such a great experience that they will cherish for the rest of their life.”