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Music To Kids' Ears

Studies show two-thirds of students in the United States are still not able to do math at the level they should.

CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith found one teacher who has reversed the trend with a system that is also fun for kids.

Every once in while you may get a song stuck in your head. But, Harriett Ball says imagine if instead of just driving you batty, that song actually contained useful knowledge that could help you solve a math equation. That's the idea behind her teaching techniques.

Ball is not your typical teacher for a typical class. She says her teaching technique has been described as out of the box, different, too loud, very effective.

In Ball's class, students learn by singing and dancing with rhymes that teach the basics of math.

"Kids are doing what they naturally do, which is to talk and to move," Ball explains of her technique. "It's abnormal for you to expect a child to sit still every day and never have to participate or be able to ask you questions until you get through. Rhythm, it's in their makeup."

Based on the idea that you can remember anything if it's set to music, Ball combines catchy tunes with schoolyard slang to teach children everything from multiplication tables, to geometry, to the metric system. And, each chant has its own choreography that keeps even the most fidgety student focused.

Ball notes, "It's like their eyes buck, and then there's a great big smile. You get to have fun, 'We get to beat on the desk, we get to get silly.' With all their movements, they don't realize that they are learning."

Although, some teachers scoffed at her methods, others adopted them. In fact, David Levin co-founded an entire organization of charter schools based on Ball's teaching style.

"She understands that our job as teachers is to meet kids where they are, to speak their language and help them understand what they're going to need to be successful," says Levin. "And all of her techniques are based around that philosophy."

Even the name of charter schools, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), comes from one of Harriett Ball's rhymes. And, the students in the program are thriving such as fifth grader Olaide Ajomagberin. She was getting C's in math before she went to KIPP. Now, she's getting A's.

"My old school math classes used to be boring and all that stuff, and here it's fun," says Ajomagberin. "It's interesting and we get to sing songs."

Ball says she would hope other teachers would take an optimistic approach to teaching their young students.

"The kids that they think can't learn, they can," Ball says. "It lifts you up. It's not work. It's a joy."

The 31 KIPP schools that use Ball's techniques all outperform traditional public schools in both reading and math. And, Ball now spends much of her time touring the country and sharing her techniques with other teachers.

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