van halen

Absolutely! I mean…who doesn’t?!  I was a little kid when my uncle brought a vinyl of the Van Halen album to my parents’ house. He threw it on the record player and said, “Hey Danny, check this out.”

A crackle sound came through my parents’ old wooden speakers as the needle from the turntable hit the vinyl record. Is that the sound of a car horn or a train passing by? What are we listening to? As I’m trying to wrap my mind around what’s going on, the bass line drops, followed by tapping of the cymbals on the drum kit matching the beat. Then, I hear the great Eddie Van Halen lay down a powerful guitar riff! And to top it off, David Lee Roth comes into the mix hitting these crazy high vocal notes! In that moment, Van Halen gained a new fan — this guy.

This entire album is insane! It remains to be one of my favorite rock albums of all time. The guitar solos will literally melt your face and the harmonies add another dimension of greatness to each song. If you don’t believe, listen to this album the next time you drive to work and turn up the volume. You’ll be destined to have an amazing day. You can thank me later…I’ve lost count of how many times my brothers, uncles and I have rocked out to this record, pretending we are the members of Van Halen, air guitaring and singing our hearts out. Not going to lie…we’re pretty good.

But seriously, there’s no denying that Eddie Van Halen is incredibly talented. The man is flawless — a true musician and a master of his craft. He does the unthinkable by bringing sounds out of a guitar that seem impossible. He is a pivotal music icon whose style and sound changed rock music forever. I mean, have you listened to “Eruption”?! That song is transcendent — it’s loud, fast, and clean. To sum it up in one word, I’d say it’s unbelievable. I’ve never heard anything like it. I’ve listened to the song hundreds of times and, to me, it’s pure perfection. But, Eddie Van Halen has said before that, “I didn’t even play it right. There’s a mistake at the top end of it. To this day, whenever I hear it, I always think, ‘Man, I could’ve played it better.’”

Talk about a true legend. Only the greatest of the greats are ones who want to get better. There is no wonder why “Rolling Stone” magazine ranked him at #8 in the list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time in 2011. “Guitar World” magazine would disagree though…readers polled him at as #1 in 2012.

There’s one person in the math world who reminds me of Eddie Van Halen — Mr. Robert Kaplinsky.

I’m just going to come out and say it — Robert Kaplinsky is the man. The first time I saw his website reminded me of the first time I heard “Van Halen.” I was hooked immediately. Is that a picture of a huge pile of money? How much money is that?!…Wait, is that really a 100 x 100 In-N-Out burger?!…Not one, but TWO lessons relating to Dr. Evil?!…Man, I think this guy and I could be good friends. I then spent hours looking through his different lessons. They are all current, engaging and relevant. He provides detailed suggestions on how to structure each lesson, thoughtful questions to keep the student learning focused, anticipated student responses, extensions for breadth and depth, and sometimes his personal experience with the lesson. He thinks of everything.

Robert is constantly coming up with and sharing new ideas — ones that are fresh, exciting, necessary and inspiring. I’ve been fortunate to have had opportunities to work with Robert and seen him conduct professional development with teachers. He’s like watching Eddie Van Halen perform “Eruption” live (yes, I’ve seen Van Halen twice in concert and it was awesome). Robert is engaging, polished and extremely motivating. From start to finish, everyone is listening to what he has to say. He has an amazing gift at relating his classroom struggles with other teachers and identifying why we need to rethink our teaching practices and do something about it. He has so many one liners that make you stop and think, “Man, that is spot on!” He reminds me of John Wooden with all of his quotes that have resonated with me…

“The group is always smarter than the smartest person in the group.”
“What’s the least helpful question I can ask you?”
“It shouldn’t be the teacher’s job to create rigorous tasks. It should be the teacher’s job to be really good at implementing them.”
“Math education is complex, not complicated.”

The guy is legendary. I cannot begin to quantify how much Robert has taught me over the past two years. He has inspired me (and many others) to become better math educators. He has pushed me to challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone. He makes things look easy, which is a testament to his work ethic. He works incredibly hard, helps other educators get better and strives to deliver the best he can every single time. He takes major pride in his work and, like Eddie, is truly a master of his craft. The math education world has been waiting for pioneers like Robert to bring excitement back to learning mathematics and he is doing that everyday by encouraging all of us to productively struggle. I’m incredibly thankful for all that he has done for me and I’m honored to consider him my friend.

I can go on. I think it’s only appropriate for me to show you the amount of respect I have for the guy and I know many other math educators hold Robert in the same regard.

In my next post, I’ll share my awesome experience trying out one of Robert’s lesson for the first time.

Thank you, Robert, for all that you do. You continue to inspire me and I appreciate you coaching me along the way. You, my friend, are a math rockstar. You are the Eddie Van Halen in math education!

And, for the record (yes, pun intended), I listened to the album “Van Halen” on repeat while I was writing this blog post…on vinyl…on my parents’ record player which they gave me a few years ago…

There’s nothing like the cracking sound of the vinyl…

For those about to rock, I salute you!  
\m/  \m/

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