Reaching for Math Mastery

How an Educator Engages ALL Kids in Learning Their Times Tables

by Dr. Rod Berger

Alex Kajitani is on a mission to help every kid master their multiplication tables. For him, it’s as simple and as difficult as that. Alex, a former award-winning teacher and creator of Multiplication Nation, sees the “times tables” as a basic foundation of everything from geometry to algebra — an essential element to moving forward in school. Alex believes that not knowing them puts a child at a distinct disadvantage both in education and throughout the rest of their lives. “Algebra I is the clearest indicator of students accepted into college,” Alex notes. “But what people don’t know is that failing it is the number one indicator of high school dropouts.”

Understanding the fundamentals also boosts the confidence of students and encourages more participation in class, an often-elusive goal in today’s classroom. “This is no longer a conversation about how we get one student to master their times tables so they can be good in math,” Alex says. “This is now a conversation on how we get all students to master them so they can move together as a class.”

Alex went from a lucrative career in restaurant management 15 years ago to being honored as that 2009 California Teacher of the Year and a top four finalist for National Teacher of the Year. The journey from just starting out as a teacher and working his way toward such recognitions was a challenge, but the end result is inspiring. Through his innovative strategies for student engagement, Alex became known as the Rappin’ Mathematician, and his ability to engage audiences isn’t confined within the classroom walls: his remarkable storytelling talent is in evidence during frequent conference presentations and his popular TEDx Talk.

Alex noticed that his students memorized complicated and rapid-fire rap lyrics from famous rap artists within days of the song being released. This realization inspired him to write his first rap song, based on adding and subtracting fractions. The song was a hit, and test scores that week shot through the roof.

It was an epiphany for Alex, and he realized that relating math to kids and their life meant the lessons would be learned and implemented. “We've got to stop trying to take our curriculum and force it into the students’ lives,” Alex says. “Instead, we need to take our students’ lives and see where that fits into the curriculum.”

Combining these insights and talents led Alex to create Multiplication Nation, a site that makes sure all students learn their times tables. For Alex, Multiplication Nation is an opportunity to take those lessons and create something that could have both an immediate and a long-term impact while remaining relatively easy to implement. “It's sort of like being able to bring me into your class every single day and work with your students one on one,” he explains.

But through it all, he remains focused on the goal. “As I've said, I'm on a mission to help every kid master their times tables, and I'm not going to quit until they do. And even then, I probably won't quit,” he says with a smile.

About Alex Kajitani

Alex Kajitani is the 2009 California Teacher of the Year, and a Top-4 Finalist for National Teacher of the Year. He is the co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers, and his first book, Owning It was named “Recommended Reading” by the U.S. Department of Education.

Alex is also on a mission to get every kid in America to learn their times tables, and to make this happen, he created the popular online program www.MultiplicationNation.com.

Alex is a highly-sought after keynote speaker who supports and motivates teachers nationwide, and he’s known around the world as “The Rappin’ Mathematician.” Alex has a popular TED Talk, has been honored at The White House, and was featured on The CBS Evening News, where Katie Couric exclaimed, “I LOVE that guy!”

For more of his innovative ideas, visit www.AlexKajitani.com.

Follow Alex on Twitter.

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Further Reading

This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit

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