Local students shoot math-centered music videos

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 16, 2019

 From left, Enansi Wooten, Bashar Abdulmuttib, Dr. Sean Strasberger, Devin Lee and Muhammad Deme take a moment from their seventh grade math class to talk about their educational YouTube channel.

From left, Enansi Wooten, Bashar Abdulmuttib, Dr. Sean Strasberger, Devin Lee and Muhammad Deme take a moment from their seventh grade math class to talk about their educational YouTube channel.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Dr. Sean Strasberger plays one of the song parodies his students created for “Playlist Math!”

Dr. Sean Strasberger plays one of the song parodies his students created for “Playlist Math!”

Photo by Deb Jacques

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Bashar Abdulmuttalib, 13, knows a thing or two about what internet audiences want. He’s got his own Pokémon YouTube channel, and he’s done some livestreaming stuff too.

His classmate, Enansi Wooten, 12, shines on the drums. He likes to play so much that he sees most things from a musical perspective, from recreation and stress management to academics.

It might be a coincidence that Abdulmuttalib and Wooten happened to be placed in the same seventh grade math course at East Hills Middle School in Bloomfield Hills, along with several other uniquely talented students. But their teacher, Sean Strasberger, is certainly using that twist of fate to his advantage.

“Music is something I’ve always been passionate about. This year, it just so happened I had a big influx of students who were passionate about music too, and they were a little more outgoing than some groups I’ve had in the past,” Strasberger, 35, explained. “They’re very creative and interested in making something fun and different.”

Strasberger helps his students to write, direct and perform music video parodies of popular songs. Instead of Top 40 lyrics, the students rewrite tunes to help them grasp concepts they’re working on in the classroom.

Their most recent installment to the “Playlist Math!” YouTube channel is a take on the hit song “Old Town Road,” by Lil Nas X, featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. The chorus of the original song is, “Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road. I’m gonna ride till I can’t no more.” The students, working on simplifying fractions, replaced that line with, “Yeah I’m gonna take two-fourths low as it can go. I’m gonna simplify till I can’t no more.”

The verses dive into the mechanics of simplifying fractions.

“I got these fractions to unpack, divisor has to match. When you reduce the fraction, divide by the same number that’s exact. Start with two-fourths, divide both by two. Numerator is one, denominator is two.”

We promise, it’s catchy when you hear it.

“We pick popular songs — ones that have millions of views — and the backbones of the song are laid out,” Strasberger said. “We come up with the key components to the lyrics, and if we hit a snag with a hard lyric, we work together to come up with something.”

In coming up with sensible phrases for the parodies, the students have to apply the lessons they’ve learned in class.

Sounds like more fun than homework, doesn’t it?

“It helped us learn the fractions,” said Wooten. “It’s different from learning and sitting at a desk and watching someone else do it. You have to keep asking more questions about it to (write the lyrics).”

“It’s been pretty fun so far,” Abdulmuttalib added. “Math is actually kind of fun now. It’s all worked out well in the end.”

Like most things in school, there are life lessons to be learned aside from the assignment at hand. In a world that is more and more reliant on technology every day, Strasberger said it’s never too early for the future workforce to learn about the importance of creating a marketable product, and growing and maintaining an audience. In other words, “likes.”

“I think the two biggest reasons we talked in class about doing this was, first, it’s important to help people watching understand whatever math concept we’re teaching,” Strasberger said. “Second, these guys have social media accounts, and they know what it means to create something for an audience and to create a bigger audience. A lot of these guys look up to people on YouTube.”

Another lesson students don’t necessarily realize they’re absorbing is the value of taking time and effort to do something right. The students record their lyrics with professional microphones, edit with real software, the works. Some kids are on camera and some are behind the scenes, each role as important as the next. The product at the end is something everyone can be proud of.

Not to mention, making a music video is just plain cool.

“When I listen to music or play the drums, it’s a really huge outlet for me. All the anger and stress you go through from school or in your personal life, it goes away,” said Wooten. “When Dr. S talked about the video about simplifying fractions, I was nervous I wouldn’t be right for it. But it was pretty cool. Not every kid gets to make a music video that’s seen around the world.”

Next on the set list, according to Strasberger, is to expand “Playlist Math!” to other students at East Hills Middle School. Principal Jason Rubel can’t wait to see what comes next.

“Dr. Strasberger does amazing things with our students,” Rubel said in an email. “He begins by connecting and getting to know who his students are as people first. With that connection, he then takes their interests and passions and connects those to content (like math), so students are able to grow their understanding — all the while, they are enjoying and having fun throughout the learning process.  When you connect passionate students with supportive and creative teaching staff, impressive things happen.”

To see the music videos, visit youtube.com/playlistmath.

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