When Mark Rogers’s math students struggled to memorize the quadratic formula, he knew it was time to get creative, so he turned to his personal passion: music.
“It’s so difficult for students to remember [that formula], and I thought, ‘Certainly someone’s made a song about that,’” he said. “When I saw their faces and how happy that made them, they all learned it. It was amazing.”
Rogers, a UT grad who currently teaches secondary math at the Meridian School in Round Rock, soon began taking popular songs and spinning the lyrics to incorporate math formulas for concepts such as graphing linear equations and solving for x. His unique approach to teaching has made him a top contender for The Great American Teach-Off, a contest that awards $10,000 to a deserving teacher to use in his or her classroom.
Rogers said this musical method applied to math helps students with different learning styles internalize difficult concepts.
“Students do learn in different ways, and this really hits all different types of learners,” he said.
It is, however, quite time consuming. Rogers said he spends an average of eight to 10 hours creating each song, from writing out lyrics, to working with GarageBand and creating the video to go along with each one. Despite the extra effort required, he said he sees it as time saved.
“I think about those eight to 10 hours and then I think about the hours beyond that that I’ve saved, because we don’t have to do other types of interventions like parent-teacher conferences,” he said. “It leads to such a higher bar of excellence in the class that I see it as time saved.”
While Rogers has taught ninth and tenth grade math, he currently teaches seventh and eighth graders and said the real-world applications of algebra are his favorite to teach to his students.
“You are able to relate almost everything to the real world,” he said. “The question in every class, particularly math, is ‘When am I ever going to use this?’ In algebra, I can answer that question almost every single time with a direct experience of mine or theirs.”
While Rogers has a resume of diverse experiences, including work as an investment banker in London and a potato chip manufacturing entrepreneur, he said teaching was always instinctual for him.
“In each of those steps, I found that the very best part was when I was teaching somebody,” he said. “That was such a strong and natural impulse for me to teach, and I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t bear to look the other way any longer. The hours just fly by.”
He also said he credits his time as a UT student for exposing him to a variety of people and scenarios.
“At UT, you have an amazing diversity of people and situations,” he said. “It helped me learn to appreciate all the different parts about different people. Every student is different, and they all have something incredible about them. Going to UT made me realize that you need to foster that.”
The Great American Teach-Off started off with 10 teachers and a winner will be announced on April 16, he said. The winner is chosen by votes by the general public in online polls on the contest website. If he wins, Rogers said he plans to use the ideas of students to choose how the money will be spent.
“It is tough to say I deserve it over the other teachers, but the future is about the students and they need to have more ownership of it,” he said. “I’ll give them ownership of the money, because I want them to feel like this was something they won as well.”
Monique Swain, an after-school enrichment program coordinator at Meridian, said Rogers is just as devoted to students in after school activities, such as spelling bees as he is in his own math classroom.
“He’s fun,” she said. “He makes the kids excited and makes them want to be there. He’s multifaceted — it’s not just math. I’m able to see more sides of Mark through the after school program.”
Russell Godfrey, a 2011 UT alumnus and friend of Rogers, said Rogers goes above and beyond to ensure the success of his students.
“He’s not just an 8:00 to 3:30 teacher,” Godfrey said. “He really loves it and spends a lot of time with the students. It’s very clear he cares a lot, and I think this grant will help him do really amazing things.”
Printed on Monday, April 2, 2012 as: UT alumnus uses music to teach algebra