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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2014 2 years ago

Family teaches students to bust a rhyme

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by: Shari Roach

Ava-D'Khari

The Eller family has made learning fun again – creating rap songs and videos that teach the Common Core curriculum. It has become a family business and a bonding experience for Angela, Bob and Ava, the 5-year-old star of the videos.

“I’m very passionate about it,” said Angela, a teacher in West Orange County. “I see how much the kids like it. They are excited, and I think they do enjoy school. I’m sure every teacher bonds with their class in a different way, but I’ve had some kids say some really nice things, like ‘I don’t want to go home.’”

The family is quite the trio, with dad writing and producing, mom running the business and Ava singing and dancing. Angela came up with the idea to make rap songs that adhere to Common Core standards back in 2012; she was a second-grade teacher at Dillard Street Elementary at the time. Her husband had been rapping as a hobby for years, and she thought it would be a great way to engage her students and help them learn. Angela will teach fourth grade at Keene’s Crossing in the fall.

It all started when Edmodo was introduced, a social media site exclusively for students and teachers. To get her students interested in the website and explain the proper etiquette, Angela asked Bob to create a song about it. Friends, family and even the creators of Edmodo gave really positive feedback, and from there, Common Core Rap was born.

“Our first unit in social studies is always community and talking about what is a citizen, what does it mean to be a member of a community?” Angela said. “You have a list of like 10 [vocabulary] words that you’re supposed to get your kids to understand, so I was like, ‘Hey, that Edmodo one was really great, why don’t you just make this a song?’ So that’s where it kind of started.”

Angela finds the content for the raps on the Orange County Public Schools’ website and aligns everything to the district guidelines. Instead of simply creating the audio, they decided that videos complete with visual examples and a karaoke style would be more effective. They included their daughter, Ava, who loves music and performing – making the videos relatable to children. Bob raps the lyrics, and Ava sings the choruses. The lessons are tailored to kindergarten through fifth grade and, so far, the family has produced 10 science and seven social studies videos. The first Common Core Rap video is “Citizen,” created when Ava was 3.

Ava’s favorite song is “Rock Star” and she can recite the lyrics, “If you know about rocks, you can be a rockstar. Let me see you rock, three types of rocks are igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary…” which she learned two years ago.

“There is definitely evidence linking music and memorization,” Bob said. “I know it helped me get through school. I used to make little rhymes in my head…for biology class and stuff like that that would just click when I needed it to.”

The family first made the “Citizen” video available outside of Dillard on the Teachers Pay Teachers website, following the advice of Ocoee Middle Principal Mark Shanoff, former Dillard principal. Angela realized this could not only be a great business opportunity but also have a huge impact on students and teachers all over the world.

“I think once we had the talk with Mark, we started to become a little bit more serious with the fact that if we were going to make a product that wasn’t just going to be used in the classroom, my classroom or maybe just my school – something that we could try to sell worldwide – we would need to make it better,” Angela said.

To create the choreography, they enlisted the help of Dillard Street’s music teacher, Kelley Bell, who also got her son, D’Khari, involved so boys could relate to the videos, as well. She came up with

dance moves that pertained to the vocabulary words and taught them to D’Khari, who then taught them to Ava.

“That really added another element to it because, now, we had audio, we had visual where they see what’s going on and then also some kinesthetic aspect to it,” Bob said. “So combined, it’s pretty powerful.”

The videos are produced in a small home studio using a green screen and a laptop. Bob creates the musical beats for every song. He also built their website, commoncorerap.com, and all the videos are available by subscription or individual sale. Free worksheets are available to the public that contain the rap lyrics but leave blanks for the vocabulary words, so kids can use context clues to learn. Recently, Bob went a step further and built their own app, Common Core Rap, which is now available on iTunes and at the Google Play Store for $5.99.

Those who purchase the app have access to all videos along with the instrumental beats alone. Students can look at the lyrics on screen while playing the beat in the background and “become the artist,” Bob said. A short five-question quiz is given at the end of each video to reinforce the lesson. Motivational phrases, like ‘you’re doing great, keep going!’ are built in to encourage children along the way.

“It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s different, it’s engaging,” Angela said. “I really feel like, on a teacher level, I’ve been able to connect with my kids and not just see them do well in science and social studies, but see them do well in reading and math and language because, ‘this is a teacher who knows what I want. This is a teacher I can relate to.’ I truly believe you can make a difference in a kid’s life, and it’s really cool. It’s cool to see them happy and excited, and I hope that along the way that transpires into something amazing for that kid.”

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