An Interview with Alex Kajitani, California Teacher of the Year, and the creator of Multiplication Nation
You are known around the globe as “The Rappin’ Mathematician,” how did that come about?
It was my first year of teaching, and I was sinking! I couldn’t get my students to pay attention, or remember any of the math I had just taught them. At the same time, I realized that they could remember every word to every rap song on the radio. So I started creating rap songs about the math I was teaching, and not only did my students get engaged in the math, their test scores skyrocketed! I ended up recording the songs and making videos, which are now being used all over the world to help kids succeed in math.
Now, you are on a mission to help EVERY kid master their times tables. Why is this skill so critical for students to be successful?
I’ve taught math at all different levels, from elementary through high school. I can tell you with utmost confidence that the students who have mastered their times tables have a much easier time keeping up and succeeding in math. Those who have not mastered them really struggle, and quickly lose confidence. It’s similar to being able to read well in English class—it’s the foundation that makes all the difference! I created MultiplicationNation.com, the first-of-its-kind, interactive, online program to help ALL kids learn their times tables (without the stress).
Why do you think so many kids have not learned their times tables?
There really are a lot of reasons. As teachers, we often teach classes with 30 or more students, and it’s tough to give every student the individual attention that they need. As parents, we’re busy with work and life, and it’s hard to find the time to sit down with our kids and practice their flashcards. And, let’s be honest—a lot of kids aren’t exactly excited to learn their times tables. MultiplicationNation.com teaches kids in a fun and engaging way, at their own pace, and they can do it anywhere they want. Just the other night, I had my own son using the program while I was washing the dishes!
You’ve been very successful as a teacher, and you have written a bunch of books that teachers are using to help them be highly effective in the classroom. You are also traveling around the country speaking to educators. What advice do you give them?
My entire philosophy of education centers around two words: Be Real. Our students need to know that we are authentic people who love what we do, even though we make mistakes. Being real means being reliable, and someone they can depend on to show up, care and deliver quality instruction. Being real also means that we need to be realistic. Maybe not every one of our students is going to go on to be a doctor, or an engineer, or even a teacher, but every one of them is going to be a neighbor, and friend, and someone who can help make the world a better place. Don’t just look at a student and see what they are. Look beyond that, and see what they are becoming.
Share your proudest teacher moment.
On the very last day of school each year, I give my 8th graders their final homework assignment. After all of the “What?! You can’t give us homework on the last day of school!” screams, I tell them that their final assignment in my class is to come back and tell me how they’re doing (sighs of relief fill the room). In teaching, there is no greater accomplishment than having one of my former students walk into my classroom, now older, (usually) taller, and more confident. As they tell me all the lessons that they remember from my class, and about their plans for the future, it is in this moment that I realize, and affirm, that as teachers we are truly shaping, reshaping, and often redirecting the future.
Please help Alex on his mission, to get ALL students to master their multiplication tables, so that they can be confident in math and in life. Check out www.MultiplicationNation.com, or email him directly at alex@MultiplicationNation.com