Ebony S. Muhammad (EM)- For those who have attended your workshops, including myself, have seen your passion for mathematics and want to know how you came to love math in the way that you do and how you’ve come to understand it in the way that you do. For most people you are their inspiration. Who or what inspired you to love math at this level?
Shahid Muhammad (SM) – I would have to say it was the Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan and Mother Tynetta Muhammad’s breakdown of the teachings of mathematical theology. That’s what infused me with the spirit of how mathematics is important to the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I think Allah blessed me with a gift to make math simple and plain for people to understand. I believe that’s one of my reasons or purposes for being on the planet. I started teaching at Muhammad University of Islam (MUI) in 1989 and from then on the students just loved my class. They loved coming to class. Even when I went into the public school, the students love my class. Therefore I felt this must be a gift that Allah has blessed me with. I’m not really that good with math in terms of high level math, that’s Dr. Abdul Alim Shabazz, but I think I have the ability to make it simple, make it plain, and make it fun to learn. There’s a difference. “Math Doctor” is a title of service, not a title of how much knowledge I have.
EM- Well, you a wealth of knowledge from what you demonstrated in your workshop.
SM – All Praise Be to Allah.
EM – You talked about the differences with math and making it simple. Is it that the math we’re taught in public school is simple and they make it complicated, or is it that it’s complicated and you’re able to make it simple?
SM – Because math is Islam, it’s our nature. You just have to have the right foundation. Hence, those early grades build the foundation. Now the way they teach the math is…they teach it where it seems so complex and complicated, but it’s really simplistic if you have the application of it and you see how it applies to the real world. A lot of times it’s just some abstract numbers and letters that don’t have any meaning and it turns people off. They make math appear as though it’s an elitist type of science that they try to keep amongst a few, but really it’s something we all can learn given the right teachings. That’s the way it is. So they try to keep it to where people don’t have a problem saying they’re bad in math, because they think that it’s something for an elite few who were blessed to be smart. Everyone can do math and everyone can excel.
EM – You mentioned that you’ve worked in both public school and with MUI. The way you broke down Hip Hop with mathematics and basketball with mathematics…You mentioned taking them to a basketball game to introduce the method of Geometry….
SM – Right, I said that you could take them to a basketball game.
EM – What other activities could you use to physically show them mathematics in something that they may not think is mathematical?
SM- Well one of my DVD called “Why We Must Master Math” came out of a lecture I did last year to some Black boys. I was invited to come speak to them about math, and it actually turned into a motivational power point presentation. We went through sports, food, movie making…I was looking at all of the avenues of what they were interested in showing them that math is universal. Anywhere you go, anything you look at there’s some math in it. I even challenged them. I told them, “I’ll give you $50 if you can show me anywhere math is not used”. They tried of course, but then I shut them down. One boy said, “Well what about when you die, there’s no math in that”. I said, “No, they burry you six feet under, worms eat you at a particular rate, you decay…” All of that is mathematics. There’s nothing you can tell me that there’s no math in it. You can go anywhere and find some mathematics.
EM – Speaking of your DVD’s, I have a cousin who home schools her children. She has a daughter who is going on 18 years of age, and she is struggling with math. As a result she said that she is going to get your DVD. However, her daughter says that she needs someone to be there with her to show her how to work the problems, and she wasn’t sure the DVD method would work. You mentioned a diagram that listed a five percent retention rate for lecture style teaching methods. How are your DVD’s formatted so that those who are watching can still engage and feel a part of what they are watching?
SM – Well because it’s in the DVD mode, and it’s not like I’m there with hands on, majority is lecture. However, I’m at the board so when they watch it it’s as if they’re in my classroom. I am talking and explaining, because I have a certain amount of time, so I break down the concepts in DVD mode. I have real world problems that I solve and I show the connection. I do use humor on the DVD, so it’s not the dead-boring ones that you may have seen somewhere else. We do try to make them fun and make them real world, but most of the time I am at the board.
EM – So it’s pretty much like how your workshop was where you brought in the element of humor, and talking about the record label companies and using those kinds of word problems.
SM – Yes ma’am.
EM – That’s wonderful.
SM – So if they get the DVD, they’ll see me and it’s like them being in the classroom.
EM – I’m sure you do this in MUI, but in the public school settings as you did here (Sunday Mosque meeting) do you demonstrate spirituality and mathematics in another way to engage them?
SM – We introduce them subtly without using Islamic terminology. I do more real world, morals, and ethics. We have to stretch away from anything that seems religious. I also teach at the college level, so some of the things I do at the high school level I do in the college. They’re so used to the boring professors talking, but we play games at the college level. They get the same power point presentation of “Why We Must Master Math” and all that.
EM – Wow, I wish I would have had you for my math teacher! You mentioned the other day that having a professor who loves to teach math will make a difference in how their students are able to learn. A lot of my professors were so dry and a few were part-time, so at the end of the day it was about them getting paid. If one is a professor and they want to learn how to enjoy math and enjoy teaching math and have a love for mathematics, what are some steps you would suggest teachers take to get there?
SM – There are a lot of math websites on the Internet, so I would go there. Just type in “math fun” or “math games” and a lot of websites will come up with activities. They have videos. If you go to my website, I have about sixty links to some fun math sites as well. The Internet, everything you want is on there to the point where you can learn. I have my DVD’s, but there are certain concepts I don’t teach. So if they want to learn Calculus or Trigonometry, all they have to do is go to YouTube and type in what you want to learn in the search engine and all of these videos of people teaching will appear. It’s free. Also, go to the Math Fun websites. You might see a video of someone dunking a basketball and then it will be explain in mathematical terms. They may go to the zoo and show some animal metabolism and how they use math. It gives you a greater appreciation for math, because it’s everywhere.
EM – In any of the future workshops that you do, conferences or something local, do you plan or have you planned to do a demonstrative workshop for teachers in order to show them what you do and how you do it?
SM – The one (conference) we had here only gave me a hour and fifteen (minutes), so sometimes they’ll bring me in and it’ll be half a day. I need about three to four hours to break down the theory for a more hands-on demonstration. I did a workshop in Dallas for public school principals, and I had them doing all of the methods in the workshop and they really enjoyed it. Most of the time my workshops are hands-on, but it just depends on how much time they give me. By Allah’s grace, I’ve finally been able to reach the Alliance of Black School Educators conference, so I’m going to present this year, Insha’Allah. I’m only going to get a hour and fifteen minutes, so I’m going to have to speed through the power point.
EM – With just the little bit you were able to provide at the workshop you were able to reach everyone in that room.
SM – And it may give me the opportunity to get invited back out for longer presentations.
It is designed to be hands-on. For instance, the one I did last week was to be hands-on.
EM – Well I’ll definitely make sure to bring that up in our next meeting. I was blessed to be a part of the organizing committee, so when we meet for our follow up, I’ll be sure to bring that up to have you back for a longer presentation.
For such reasons as that, how may we get in touch with you to learn more about you as well as buy your DVD’s?
EM – And you’re also on the Final Call store website (www.store.finalcall.com)
Is there anything else you would like to add?
SM – I would just like to say that the same way reading literacy is being pushed is the same way we have to look at math. If we don’t get our math on, we’ll always be subjected to those who do have their math. Tell the audience who’s reading your wonderful magazine to make sure they lock down their math skills. If they have children, make sure that’s one of their top priorities on the weekend outside of school to do some math. Make sure you’re astute in mathematics.
EM – Excellent point, because math has its own language.
SM – And it opens doors to go into any field you want.
EM – Thank you very much!
SM- Thank you.