Dr. Peter Michael Plourde, the director of faculty development at the University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDC-CC), teaches mathematics, including courses in basic math and business calculus this semester. To the general public and to many of his students, Peter is known as Professor Lyrical, or simply Lyrical, for his work as a hip-hop artist and for his courses in hip-hop culture and lyricism, musical comedy, and entertainment management. Peter and his wife, Nicole, recently appeared on the game show Wheel of Fortune, but perhaps more intriguing is Peter’s life as a rapper. He has performed hip hop at more than 50 institutions, where he’s also been asked to speak about the connection between STEM and hip hop. He credits the music genre for giving him the confidence to address large audiences. Using rap as a hook, Peter speaks and performs at many colleges and universities that are looking to enhance their teaching and learning through hip-hop pedagogy. Peter is the author of Put Em All to Shame: The Curriculum, a companion book to Peter’s album by the same name.
Peter served as a facilitator for ACUE’s course in the foundations of effective instruction at UDC-CC in fall 2017 and is also facilitating the course this spring. Here are some of his key takeaways from the program.
I’ve never liked wasting time on the first day of classes with too much administrative stuff. Students expect that those first few minutes are not that important, and I don’t mind changing things up. Now, after completing the module on leading the first day of class, I feel more empowered to jump right into teaching, especially when this and other methodologies I’ve used in the past are backed by the research included in ACUE’s course.
Homework reviews are another methodology I like. It’s important to take a pulse of where my students are, and I also invite them to tell me how my homework assignments are sitting with them. ACUE recommends soliciting feedback around midterm time, and I recently implemented this in my large basic math class. It was super helpful to get student input. I discovered that many students were having a tough time working with ratios, and their comments let me know I needed to do a better job with that topic. In math, when students are having problems learning a new concept, it is almost always due to a weakness in some previous lesson. In the case of ratios, after I received my students’ feedback, I discovered I had moved too quickly through the essence of fraction identities and revisited that section to help the students build a stronger foundation.
Keeping it on the down low
I’ve begun providing low-stakes assessments—ungraded opportunities to see what our students are learning. In math class, this can be a shock. Students expect that each test or quiz represents a percentage of their grade. And of course it does. I tell them it’s zero percent! With these informal assessments, I’m trying to help students build muscle memory for mathematics. These low-stakes assessments are like basketball scrimmages. Students get to feel what it’s like to suit up and be in a game situation, but they’re given the opportunity to practice their skills without the pressure of “winning the game.” Building the muscle memory builds students’ confidence.
People often incorrectly assume that performers, especially rappers, don’t have much to say in their lyrical content. I try to dispel that notion whenever I have a forum or a microphone in front of me. The funny thing is, I am an introvert. But hip-hop culture has given me the confidence to speak to thousands of people I otherwise never would have reached.
My experience with hip-hop—and with math—sends a powerful message to students. Although I initially didn’t have the confidence to speak publicly, I’ve achieved mastery in this area by putting forth the effort. The same applies to my experience learning math. I recall a moment becoming frustrated with basic addition in my first-grade math class and not knowing an answer when the teacher called on me. I think it’s important to not put students on the spot, to give them processing time, to help them see mistakes as opportunities, to encourage them to enjoy the learning process, and to show them that effort pays off. True hip-hop culture is historically empathetic and supportive, and I try to recreate that atmosphere in my classroom and outside as well.
As is usually the case, my lyrics crystallize my feelings on the subject. This is an excerpt from a rap I recently wrote, called “Confidence”:
Now I teach the world through my words, still it humbles me/
Hug my son once he wakes, his love comforts me/
Makes it hard ta hate on another, remaining ugly/
Be the best I can be, evolved culturally/
Involved in my community, living life more productively
To learn more about hip-hop pedagogy, follow #HipHopEd. To see some of Peter’s performances, visit http://professorlyrical.com/ or view his YouTube playlist at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzwYaIlrCDBBEnWDbMf9-ow.
Scores of Peter’s songs reside on SoundCloud at SoundCloud.com/ProfessorLyrical.