Rapping Prof. Makes Algebra 'Contagious'
If she had a rapper name, it could be “Prof-L.”
Kean University adjunct professor Irisa Leverette helps her students learn algebra, encourages them to do homework, and reduces “math anxiety” by rapping in the classroom.
“She’ll be in the middle of a lesson, start freestyling, drop the marker as if it’s a mic, and then go right back to the lesson as if nothing happened,” said Elijah Sherin, a freshman finance major from Long Branch. “She comes to every class excited to teach, so it makes us excited to come too.”
Leverette is a Kean alumna who earned her bachelor’s degree in management science in 1996 and her master’s degree in public administration in 2000. She has been teaching at the University since 2005.
“I rip classrooms like Drake RIP stages,” Leverette says in one of her lyrics. “I’mma make algebra and trig contagious!”
While Leverette has done “a little rap here, a little rap there” since she was a teenager, this semester her rapping caught on in her MATH 1000 class, which is college algebra.
“Every Friday I’ll say a few sentences in rap, then I drop the mic. That lets them know I’m finished and it’s time to go. The students have gotten into it,” she said, adding that students have recorded her raps and posted them on social media.
Leverette said that many students feel they can’t learn math. But she works to create a relaxed learning environment as she breaks down algebra into understandable concepts and comes up with ways to help individual students learn.
Several students said Leverette’s approach helps them master the subject.
Prosper Nwankwo, a freshman architecture major from Trenton, said Leverette keeps students focused. “I love coming to class because you can tell she loves her job,” he said.
College algebra is a math requirement for many students in various majors at Kean. Louis Beaugris, executive director of Kean’s School of Mathematical Sciences, said the University encourages professors to think beyond the whiteboard and slide presentation in their approach to teaching.
"At Kean, we expect our professors to innovate and engage students, to take the extra step to ensure our students learn,” he said. “Irisa Leverette does that."
Leverette also uses technology in teaching. She posts math videos on her Facebook page, ithinkalgebra. The rapping prof plans to use social media further by creating a YouTube channel for ithinkalgebra. Her math videos have received close to 8,000 views on Facebook, and helped students in China, India, and elsewhere, as well as at Kean, she said.
“Social media is the 'real world,' and universities want students to have real-life experiences in the classroom,” she said. “Plus, students are so attached to their phones, it makes sense to utilize this technology in the classroom.”
And for good measure, she also uses her rap to remind students to continue learning at home.
“Don't forget to study over the weekend,” Leverette raps. “Let it sink in, marinate. See you on Monday. Don't be late!”