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Detroit dad and educator uses familiar beats to help kids learn math

Under the name Mr. E in the D, Emmanuel Smith creates relevant music to help students memorize math facts.

Do you remember watching Schoolhouse Rock? Songs like “Elementary, My Dear” and “Three is a Magic Number” on the iconic TV program taught many of us our multiples of two and three. Well, the “Multiplication Rock” program was released over 44 years ago – and has some serious outdated ’70s vibes.

That’s where Emmanuel Smith comes in (known better as Mr. E in the D). Last year, Smith released Math Mixtape Vol. 1, his own set of educational songs set to the sounds of today – incorporating mainstream beats like Drake’s “The Motto” to help kids remember their multiples of two and Big Sean’s “Guap” teaching multiples of three.

Smith got the idea for his math mixtape while substitute teaching a third grade class. He noticed that most of the students were struggling with their multiples.

“It was like the times tables of threes. I know when I was in the third grade, we were flash card-ing out – it was an automatic thing,” Smith says. “But these kids were really struggling. They didn’t know their threes? It kind of hurt. I thought, ‘Wow, they’re not prepared.’”

With the mixtape, Smith was especially trying to make something that was cool – not cheesy.

“It’s something that kids will want to listen to but also, for moms and dads, it won’t be torture for them,” Smith says. “It’s something that parents can actually bang while they’re in the car.”

Setting the songs to familiar beats is all part of Smith’s belief that kids learn best when they can relate to what is being taught to them.

“I make it where education can be relevant to their lives, whether it be through music or even simple story problems,” Smith says. “Instead of like, ‘Jack went to the store and bought a hot dog,’ it could be ‘Deonte went to Foot Locker to buy some flip-flops.’ Something where they can see it in their everyday life.”

As the dean of culture at University Prep Ellen Thompson Elementary, Smith says some of the teachers at the school have used his math mixtape in their classes.

“One of our fourth grade teachers, Mr. Robinson, used the mixtape as a warmup in his class as the kids were doing their math fact challenges. He would play different times tables that they were learning or the ones that were difficult for them,” Smith says. “After he turned it off, he would hear them still humming the song. Just to see their excitement from learning and also music is just breathtaking to me.”

Smith says he keeps his own children involved throughout the entire process, from the idea phase to the actual execution. Helping his son as he was learning to read sparked the idea of the mixtape he’s currently working on, which will address letters and word sounds. He hopes his music help emphasize the importance of really learning the educational building blocks early on.

“The sounds and sight words and stuff, I saw that that was a very important thing,” Smith says. “For some parents, they feel there’s a disconnect, that it’s not that important or whatever – but these things are the foundation of education.”

To stream or download Mr. E in the D’s Math Mixtape Vol. 1, visit mreinthed1.bandcamp.com.

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