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L.A. Teacher Creates Catchy Math Videos That Teach Complicated Concepts
Did you ever wish you could watch a music video to learn and memorize important math concepts? Like the origins and applications of pi? Or what about the tricky quadratic formula? Or the differences between mean, median and mode?
Los Angeles math teacher and tutor Huzefa Kapadia has done just that. He has created eight catchy music videos that explain fundamental and sometimes complicated math concepts, such as permutations and combinations, slope intercepts and special right triangles. The lyrics are educational and rhythmic, and the melodies sound like they could have been recorded by the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync or Justin Bieber.
“It was born out of combination of practicality and passion,” says Kapadia, 37, who teaches math at Seven Arrows Elementary School in Pacific Palisades, CA and also works as a private math and test prep tutor. “I used to want to be a musician above all else, and a singer. I looked at Flocabulary — I actually interviewed them [to learn more about them]. They thought it was really cool what I was doing.”
Flocabulary takes various educational concepts, including language arts, math and science, and sets K–12 lessons to hip hop music. Kapadia liked that approach, but noticed that hardly anyone was doing the same with pop and so-called boy band music.
“I love pop music,” he said. “I thought I could do a really good job making catchy songs you could make on that level. I thought, ‘This would be a blast for me.’ What I try to do is make the chorus is a mnemonic musical device.”
With that in mind, he recorded the song “PEMDAS,” which stands for “parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, add, subtract.” That’s the order you’re supposed to approach a multi-faceted math equation — parentheses first, then exponents, etc.
“How do you keep straight mean, medium and mode?” Kapadia asked. “If you can lock that melody in your head, it’s easier. For my second graders, it’s a very advanced concept for them. But they all have it down.”
Kapadia’s students frequently appear in his music videos — singing backup, dancing and just hanging out, having a good time. That makes it extra fun for the kids and their parents.
“I shot one video involving all the second grade kids” at Seven Arrows, he said. “That’s the place where I get the most feedback. The kids get to be a part of this, and their parents are excited too.”
One video, the “Quadratic Formula Song,” has amassed 201,475 views and counting. It’s an infectious tune with a chorus that spells out the classic algebra formula: “Negative B/ plus or minus the square root of B squared/ minus 4 AC/ all over 2A — don’t worry!”
“It reminds me of years ago, when we had ‘Schoolhouse Rock,’ ” said Lisa Douglas of Woodside, CA, located in Silicon Valley. Kapadia has been tutoring her son, Aristotle, for about five years. “They’re catchy little tunes, little jingles that the kids can grab onto and hold onto, and make a connection to these math concepts. It’s such a benefit for kids. He’s a wonderful tutor, and he has found a way to engage kids in their learning and bring some lightness to heavy subjects.”
FROM CORPORATE LAW TO TUTORING
Kapadia hasn’t always been a math teacher and aspiring YouTube star. Just a few years ago, the graduate of the University of Michigan and Northwestern Pritzker School of Law was a big-time corporate lawyer in Washington, D.C., netting a hefty six-figure salary, not including bonuses. He worked in technology law, in tandem with software and hardware companies, as well as patent litigation.
“It came down to this — I wasn’t happy practicing,” said the Michigan-born Indian American. “I wasn’t enjoying the work intrinsically. I love public speaking and verbal jousting. I’m extremely extroverted. I love being creative. There’s not even a comparison — doing what I do now.”
So after a move to Santa Monica, CA, Kapadia left law behind and began tutoring math and test preparation to kids. “The jump to education was never, ever something I would have imagined growing up. It was very ingrained that I was going to do something like be an attorney or engineer. But for whatever reason, I feel really confident in my ability to explain math concepts.”
Kapadia started his own company, Scalar Learning, named after a math multiplier concept. He hopes to grow his audience and incorporate the music videos into longer video courses that he can sell. He also plans to make music videos based on SAT and ACT preparation lessons — which may be a first in the marketplace.
“I just want lot of people to watch and enjoy them,” said Kapadia, who often goes by his first name only, Huzefa. “I’ve heard kids already say to me, ‘That’s how I got through this test. Your song really helped me.’"
Meanwhile, Kapadia is going to keep making his math music videos, with perhaps some SAT and ACT concepts — and rap — sprinkled in.
“Getting the views in the millions — that would be amazing. It’s not about monetary value. I want a lot of people to see them, a lot of people to like them. I want to make a robust, awesome study course for every major standardized test, and have it be a powerhouse course that rivals Veritas Prep or Kaplan.
“I love making music so much. It’s endlessly fun. It’s really hard to get sick of it. I find writing about math more fun than standard topics, like falling in love.”
To view Huzefa Kapadia’s “Quadratic Formula Song,” click on the music video below: