Marcus Blackwell is a mathematical and musical genius.
The Morehouse College alum has combined his passion for music and aptitude for math to create a brilliant mobile app fittingly named Make Music Count.
This truly innovative platform enables students to solve real math problems by playing piano notes to popular songs. Through the highly interactive interface, kids increase confidence in math concepts while also learning to play an instrument.
“It’s time for education to have a culturally relevant approach,” says Blackwell. “The reason Make Music Count works so well is because we use songs that our students listen to at home. I want to help kids use music to learn math, to help them embrace a daunting subject while having fun.”
The issue is the way that math is taught, adds the Connecticut native who now resides in Atlanta. “Traditional math lessons are taught so that math is feared.”
Blackwell’s entrepreneurial journey is deeply personal. He has been playing piano since he was five-years-old and is classically trained in jazz and gospel. And throughout K-12 he was a proficient multi-instrumentalist but lacked confidence in math, which he describes as “math phobia.”
It was only during his sophomore year of college that Blackwell finally connected the dots. He came up with the novel idea that connecting music to math is a creative, engaging, and stimulating method to grasp even the most complex formulas.
It paid off. Three years later Blackwell graduated from Atlanta’s Morehouse College with a sought-after four-year math degree.
“As a kid, I was good at math, but it intimidated me. Even in college, math was frustrating. Then one day I was daydreaming about music and I realized there is a numeric structure to learning the piano keys that could translate into math. I worked on this approach for a while, and eventually, I gained so much confidence that I became a math major.”
“If someone would’ve told me playing music included understanding math, I would’ve been healed of math phobia a long time ago. It’s important to connect students’ passions to what they’re learning.”
Soon after graduation Blackwell starting working with schools in and around Atlanta. Initially, it was voluntary-based, then he started to secure coveted B2B contracts with school districts. He taught the Make Music Count curriculum in after-school and summer enrichment programs. By incorporating music into each lesson, students become engaged while simultaneously learning mathematical concepts.
More recently the idea for a mobile app came about to extend reach and social impact. “Our small team created an app, and now over 200 schools and 45,000 students in eight states are using it,” says Blackwell, whose company is now in the final weeks of the highly competitive Techstars Social Impact Accelerator. “Even better, the students have increased their math scores 28 percent.”
The Make Music Count app currently includes eight lessons on fractions, decimals, timetables, division, algebra, graphing, pre-calculus, and calculus. It relies on the same theory behind Blackwell’s on-site classes.
Each lesson is based on learning notes in a song. Each note is derived through a mathematical equation. One lesson, for example, will include several mathematical formulas that play to hip-hop and pop songs. The top half of the screen shows the equation, which users aim to solve by pushing the required piano keys.
“This is what STEAM education looks like. Teachers are looking for arts-integrated concepts and we are the answer for mathematics.”
The overall mission is to eliminate math phobia in third-to tenth-grade students. Make Music Count, says Blackwell, increases the confidence in students to let them know that they can learn and thrive in mathematics by simply using music as a different reward for solving equations
Now, with the Coronavirus pandemic, there’s even more scope for Make Music Count to become an invaluable B2C platform. With schools on lockdown, parents are struggling with homeschooling and keeping their kids stimulated.
“Our app is an important resource for parents who are taking on the responsibility of teaching their kids during this pandemic and are seeking online options. We don’t know for sure how long schools will be closed, but as long as the Internet and digital platforms are available, schools will keep exploring and improving distance learning options.”
What’s more, Make Music Count is perfect for kids who do not have access to computers at home since the app can be accessed on mobile devices, such as iPads, tablets, and phones.
Make Music Count is even getting celebrity attention. This month singer Jidenna spent time with Blackwell on Instagram Live talking homeschooling. NBA player Chris Paul has also personally endorsed Make Music Count as a viable math distance learning resource during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Blackwell says he’s flattered but his main focus now is getting parents to download the app to truly experience the benefits. In fact, he admits there’s a wider appeal for adults and all demographics – many of his millennial peers enjoy using the app themselves.
Why not give it a try? Download the Make Music Count app here on the Apple App Store and Google Play. It’s free to download, with a nominal monthly fee for the premium features.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter@Kunbiti