Music

Mathematicians Like Me

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Mathematicians Like Me
by Tim Griffin, copyright 2014

The very first nations and civilizations increased agricultural yields
But the South Central Asians had no good equations for counting the crops in their fields
Somebody said, “Pal you should add with place value, it’s far more efficient you see”
Some Hindu hero invented the zero for mathematicians like me

The old Babylonians loved them some factors, you still see their math all around
They didn’t do decimal, just sexagesimal, trust me it’s not like it sounds
But for twenty four hours or one dozen flowers or three hundred sixty degrees
Their crazy cuneiform tablets were needed for mathematicians like me

The Chinese had rods for their evens and odds, with a space where a zero would go
The Inca had quipu to do math like we do; the strings all look knotty I know
Early inscriptions by ancient Egyptians tell how they taught math to their kids
Frogs, fingers, and lotuses showed the kids, “Yo, this is how we build great pyramids”

Tell you the story of old al-Kwarizmi, in Baghdad he wrote about math
His Compendious Tome on Completion and Balancing’s good fun to read in the bath
Quadratic equations, with cool calculations he solved them all elegantly
With six different versions for practical Persians and mathematicians like me

The Greeks earned our praise for their angles and rays, they defined every shape we can see
With their columns and roofs and their polygon proofs and their mathematicians like me
And the marvelous Mayans with their dots and their lines and the Romans with I, V, L, C
I hope they had fun with them, every last one of them mathematicians like me

Print Notes Notes

One thing I try to do with my music is to give some sense of connection to all the disparate bits of knowledge we expect our kids to master. Although nothing in this song is likely to come up on a math test as such, I believe kids will have an easier time making sense of all the fractions, equations, etc. if we can give the math some kind of a narrative context. With that in mind, you might want to share this song with your math students as you introduce some of the math topics covered here.

Plus, this song may help a little to dispel the whole “White Guys Invented Everything” myth.

The Common Core has nothing substantive to say about teaching history (too politically dangerous!), but if your state is anything like California you probably do ancient history sometime around middle school. Therefore, here are some California History Standards addressed by this song:

Sixth Grade:
CA.HSS.6.2. Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Kush.
CA.HSS.6.4. Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of Ancient Greece.
CA.HSS.6.5. Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of India.
CA.HSS.6.6. Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of China.
CA.HSS.6.7. Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures during the development of Rome.

Seventh Grade:
CA.HSS.7.2 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages.
CA.HSS.7.2.6. Understand the intellectual exchanges among Muslim scholars of Eurasia and Africa and the contributions Muslim scholars made to later civilizations in the areas of science, geography, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, art, and literature.
CA.HSS.7.3. Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of China in the Middle Ages.
CA.HSS.7.7. Students compare and contrast the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the Meso-American and Andean civilizations.
CA.HSS.7.7.5. Describe the Meso-American achievements in astronomy and mathematics, including the development of the calendar and the Meso-American knowledge of seasonal changes to the civilizations’ agricultural systems.
CA.HSS.7.10.1. Discuss the roots of the Scientific Revolution (e.g., Greek rationalism; Jewish, Chris­tian, and Muslim science; Renaissance humanism; new knowledge from global exploration).
CA.HSS.7.11.2. 2. Discuss the exchanges of plants, animals, technology, culture, and ideas among Eu­ rope, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the major economic and social effects on each continent.

Chords: E, E7, A, C#, F#, B, A7, B7, G#