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    • Please join me in welcoming Marcus Blackwell Jr, the founder and CEO of Make Music Count, for a Cake Panel! Marcus will be continuing to answer questions submitted in addition to the below answers.

      A bit about Marcus: Marcus Blackwell is the CEO and Founder of Make Music Count, a math curriculum taught through music. He received a B.S in mathematics from Morehouse college and has played the piano since the age of 5. Marcus dedicates his energy to developing creative methods that convince students to embrace mathematics. His company is an app that teaches math lessons through playing the piano. It’s his belief that this method will serve as a tool to eliminate math phobia and anxiety in the classroom, allowing students to reach their full education potential.

      Welcome Marcus!

    • I was kind of forced into the leap. I was working at GE, and for the last 6 months that I was there, I was doing this for free, I was leaving once a week and teaching at a local school as a way to give back. I had no idea that this would become a business, it was something that helped me, so I wanted to help other kids.

      And then another school heard about the work I was doing, and they said “We have a summer program that meets from Monday through Thursday, 9 AM - 12 noon.” And I said “I’m not sure what you’re asking me, because I have a job, I can’t do that.” And they said ”No, we’ll pay you to do it!”

      I had no idea this was something somebody would pay for.

      So that’s when I was faced with a decision: I’ve had a great time doing this, I’ve been seeing some impact with the kids. So that forced me to take the leap.

      I’d been at GE for 3 years, I could get another engineering job, so why not go after this? So I did! Best decision I ever made. 

    • I would say from my very first lessons, when we were doing it for free, as a volunteer service. What started out as a neat way to teach the piano quickly became a way that was helping kids understand math. And it wasn’t just the best 6 months to volunteer, period, but the first summer program. That was when we started to see What is this actually doing? What kind of data are we seeing here?

      I had the idea to do a Pre- and post- test with math, the same math we were doing. During the 6 months, I was creating lessons every week, and that allowed me to create my first workbook. That’s how I created that first workbook, from all these looseleaf pages of all these different songs, different types of math. That’s how I had the idea for a workbook. So the summer school purchased those workbooks, and we did a pre-and post test. And then we saw that not only was this engaging, but it was causing improvement in math understanding. 

    • It’s a mixture of a few things. I look at the Billboard top 100 songs to see what’s really popular. That’s really our secret sauce, we unapologetically connect with what students are listening to. I ask the kids “What are your favorite songs?” It’s a mixture of what’s popular from a mainstream perspective. And then there are artists I have not even heard of yet. So when students see underground artists, they feel personally connected to the curriculum. So it’s a mixture of the media, paying attention to what goes viral. For example, Baby Shark, when that came out, and everybody was doing the shark movement from adults to kids, we knew to put that song in there as a lesson. The movie Aladdin, the remake is coming out in 8 days, so we’re gonna be doing an Aladdin song. It’s all about staying relevant, ahead of the curve. So there’s a whole bunch of Disney movies coming out this year, so Lion King we’ll do a lesson for. It’s shows, it’s cartoons, it’s all of that. 

    • Great question! So it’s funny, the past 6 years of being in the classroom is what allowed us to make this app. We took the entire class experience and put it in the app. One of the things that was missing I took for granted because I was a teacher was being first a math teacher, and then being able to translate into a piano / band teacher. One of the things that was missing was students would solve the equations - they were able to do the math, get the piano notes as an answer, but still not know what to do, how to play the song. So in the app, we take your answers and we play the music and light up the piano keys so you know exactly how to play the song.

      And there’s another really important pice the app allowed us to do. We’re a math company, so we are all about collecting data. And it was hard for us to collect data as an after-school program. Because we were stuck there, we couldn’t have data compared to what students were doing in the school day. The app allowed us to break out of that limited space so we can be a supplement during the day, and also we’re able to collect data faster and more consistently. After every lesson in the app is a math quiz. So the app is actually averaging your math quiz scores by math subject right in front of you, so you can see if you need to improve on your times tables, versus doing excellent in Algebra. And that’s what was missing from the physical class experience.

      With this app, we have a solution that can expand outside of the US. We built it for Android first, because there are more international Android users. And we believe through different cultures of music, we can use that to teach math everywhere. There are 2 business models we have: the first is a freemium model, directly out of the App Store, so free to download, and then to subscribe it’s $1.99 per month. We wanted to make it affordable, and we’re a math app, so we didn’t want to make people think twice about downloading it, to use it. We’re after impact there. There’s a lot of math apps that cost a lot of money in the App Store, but we know the solution we have has tremendous impact if we can just get people to download it without hesitation that it’s math AND expensive, that would not be good. The second business model is we actually license the app to school districts at a cost of $7 per student to license for the entire year. And if you calculate that, it’s actually cheaper for the schools to purchase for the students than for them to use it at home. That’s on purpose, because this is a solution that needs to be use to start to have educational reform.

      As mentioned, we are after social impact, and being able to close the achievement gap in certain cultures, so we want to price ourselves so school districts will prioritize this and use it during the day. 

      Everyone talks about STEM, but if you’re using art to hide the fact you’re doing math, that’s not good. What I love about our app is that it still feels like math. You have to remember your order of operations, and actually calculate 11 x 4 to be able to get to the right piano note. We don’t want to hide the fact that students are doing this work. Math isn’t going anywhere. We have to be able to get more comfortable with doing math, and not hide, it or disguise it. 

    • You started Make Music Count around 2013. Have you kept in touch with students over the years and seen how the combination of music and math has impacted them?

    • You know, not like I should have. One of our longest partners has been Ivy Prep Academy, an all-girl charter school here in Atlanta, and that’s been my best case for girls I’ve seen grow up using Make Music Count. And that’s where I’ve seen the results, being able to have conversations with their parents. I wish I could do that on a larger scale, but I didn’t know how to capture that. So that’s another thing about the app, it’s going to allow us to see that improvement, and grow with students easier, because it’s definitely happening, but I only have that one example when parents were trying to find me, one mother her 3 daughters had dyslexia, and I didn’t know this, I was teaching the class  as I normally did, and she said “Not only is this helping them with their math, but it’s made them more social, more confident with their peers.” And I responded with “My goodness, I didn’t know that.” It gives me goosebumps when I work with kids and see them get it, see their math scores improve. It’s really doing what it’s supposed to do. I was that kid that WISHED for something like this. 

    • Well right now, it’s Old Town Road! That’s number one right now. Baby Shark would be number two. Any song by Migos is doing excellent. It really depends, we have all different types of songs in there. It goes back to what’s been popular, what’s going viral. Old Town Road went viral, and so did Baby Shark, so we have to be careful to catch things when they’re popular. Another really popular one was Money by Cardi B. It was popular for two reasons, one is that it’s a great song, but as a lesson, there’s only two questions in the entire lesson because there’s only two notes in the song. You know what else did well? We made the Game of Thrones theme song a lesson! Just as a way to get some of the adults into it. So when you first download the app, you get 3 free songs - right now it’s Old Town Road, the Game of Thrones theme song, and Beyonce’s Before I Let Go. And there’s a dance challenge going on right now with that song, so we had to do that! 

    • What helps me are in-person examples. A lot of times talking about what I’m doing would turn off a traditional math teacher, but once they put their hands on the app, and understand that I’ve replaced every need for music theory with math. We’re looking at the piano like a number line. We have lessons on actually doing algebra, the same exact steps. It’s a process, because as a math major, I completely understand where they’re coming from. But that’s the exact reason why I made this. I was careful to say “this still needs to feel like math, give you a little anxiety at times.”

      But we’ve been able to win them over. I’ve spent time with my math professors at Morehouse to ask what they think of it, and ask if they’d envision seeing math results from doing something like this. We’ve worked with teachers, grown with their classes, to prove it. And it comes down to data. We can collect quiz data on math alone that shows this transfers over. A lot of the adults that see this, I’ll go through a lesson, and they will say “I still don’t see the math.”

      And you have to realize that math is not an individual subject. Math is used in everything. That’s how the world works, math is a part of everything, which is so ironic that traditional teachers would resist creative methods that use math. But that’s what we’re trying to fight here, the idea that math is only done one way, it’s done many ways. That’s where we get rhythm from. We get it from counting, from doing that. It takes a personal touch, but this whole incorporation of arts into the STEM field is new, and a lot of people haven’t done it correctly, which means there might be some resistance. We’re one of the few, because of my math background, that’s intentional to make it feel like math when we do it.  

    • The answer is: there’s no accommodations necessary because that’s the power of music. Music is almost like a magic healing power that allows kids with disabilities to push through our lessons. That’s why you see examples of children with stuttering who, when it comes to their favorite song, can sing it with. No stutter at all. First you hear the song, and then learning how to play the song, almost eliminates those walls they have up. Now of course there’s more severe cases of disabilities, but I’ve done this as a random workshop, I remember going to London to present this, and I met a lady who was over a severe case of disability centre with students that could not go to regular schools because of their disability. And I told her “I think I can help.”

      And she tried to call my bluff, and I offered to go over that day to her centre. She gave me the high school aged students, and we left them in awe, because it wasn’t just “They’re doing a lesson,” it was they were confident enough to go up to the classroom chalkboard. It was the music, using it the correct way. And that’s the beauty of what Make Music Count is. It’s using music to encourage students to do better in math. 

    • Yes! Absolutely. It’s an app in the App Store, so any parent can download it directly from there. I would love to be able to be a resource for those type of homeschool communities. I’m definitely open to talking to anyone who’s making homeschool curricula, so we can be a resource for them. But in the meantime, you can use the app on your iPhone, Table, or phone. And in our app, you can actually select lessons by math subject, so it’s not just randomly picking songs, if you wanted to focus on decimals - the areas we work with are fractions, decimals, times tables, division, graphing, pre-Calculus, and Algebra. And you can select a section of math you want to focus on, and then that will open up all the songs that focus on that area specifically. So that will be really great for homeschool parents to know.