You've probably heard of Jimmy Buffett. But have you heard of his song "Math Suks"? That's right, Math Suks.
Well, it does for many students. Maybe it did for you. Maybe it does for your child, or someone you know.
It doesn't have to be that way.
Enter Taylor Swift and Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame.
They have all performed songs that I have borrowed for my purposes in teaching math.
That's right, T.S. helps me teach my students what formula to use in a certain, ahem, Blank Space, that they encounter in a little tortuous exercise we math teachers fondly call "Completing the Square".
Lin-Manuel Miranda, aka "Alexander Hamilton", helps me teach the concept of horizontal asymptotes. (Did you notice they are the same number of syllables? I know, it's perfect!) He also assists me in teaching that it must be right to do the operations on both sides, and that we're not gonna divide by zero.
Josh Groban's powerful version "You Raise Me Up" reminds us of the mathematical intricacies of exponential expressions. You remember "x raised to the second power". The song is sung from the perspective of the base of that function. Speaking of base...
Meghan Trainor's song All About the Bass comes in handy teaching exponential and logarithmic functions, because those functions are All About The Base.
Home Free helps me sing my favorite math song, Any Where the Theta Goes. (Theta is a Greek math letter that represents angles in trig... I know you hated that subject in particular).
No I haven't profited off of them so no need to sue me. It is a wonderful thing to watch students seeing and hearing how math is totally awesome and that even the most boring (there, I said it) formulas in math can be written into pop songs and hit stage musical numbers.
You see, math truly is an amazing subject, but sadly many of my students' former teachers have apparently lost (or worse, maybe never had) the passion and awe of math that's needed to impart any meaningful engagement and interest and curiosity in their students.
You see, I've "got a long list of ex-students; they'll tell you I'm insane". (Thanks T.S.!) That's OK with me, since I think my math songs share some of that passion and fun and energy in my classroom.
Hamilton's "I'm Not Gonna Throw Away My Shot" adapts perfectly to "I'm Not Gonna Divide by Zero", which we made into a music video! That's one of those big no-no's in math: it's undefined when you divide by zero. It is the U-N-D-E-F-I-N-E-D, it's not meant to be zero, see? (it helps if you know the song, or if you suffer hearing me sing it)
I could go on Forever (yo, Chris Brown) to infinity but you get the idea. (Link is to an epic wedding video that includes this song... one of the most unabashedly joyful things you may ever see on YT.)
Math is a beautiful and wondrous subject, and I can't bear to see it studied in a boring fashion. So I have written these songs and yes I sing them in my class. And yes they all laugh at me and yes they post the awful videos of me singing on Insta and Snap (Instagram and Snapchat for those not in the know).
And yes I catch them singing quietly to themselves, "I've got a blank space, baby, and I'll write ... b over two squared".
So maybe I'm not insane after all?
Things get even more interesting when they do the song writing themselves. In my classroom we've heard "A Big Green Factor" adapted from "My Big Green Tractor" which was great - thanks to Trevor Howard (my student) and Jason Aldean (country singer).
Another Math 2 student, Riley Moore, teamed up with Lin-Manuel Miranda (who was unaware of this) to adapt probably the fastest rap piece from Hamilton into an educational hip-hop masterpiece expounding on the mid-numbing topic of absolute value inequalities. Truly it was practical, tactical brilliance on display right there in my classroom.
Be on the lookout for more videos rolling out soon. Whenever we are released from our home quarantine, watch out for more student-led, student-directed music videos. Until then you will have to put up with just me singing these math songs for now.
Maybe Jimmy Buffett and I could team up on, say, "Changes in Attitude"? You know, math doesn't suk so bad when your teacher sings about it.
P.S. Taylor, I may or may not claim that you and I went to high school together and that your idea for this song came from this crazy math "blank space" thing. Don't worry, they only believe me for like ten seconds. I gotta say though, it's a beautiful ten seconds.
Mark B. Anderson
Tutor & Founder, Strength in Numbers Tutoring
UPDATE: @MrAndersonSingsMath is now officially on TikTok! Taylor Swift (I may have a little crush) and I sing Parallel Lines Will Never, Ever, Ever Intersect Together. There's a #HomeFree country song about trigonometry! Check it out!!