Allen Math Instructor Makes Teaching, Learning Fun

Steve Sodergren, mathematics instructor at Allen's Burlingame Campus, poses with his alter ego, Al G. Bra, who sings in a YouTube video.

Bruce Symes

Steve Sodergren, mathematics instructor at Allen’s Burlingame Campus, poses with his alter ego, Al G. Bra, who sings in a YouTube video.

Elvira Avdeyeva, Flame Activities Editor

“Welcome to Hotel Calcformula

Such a brainy place, such a brainy place”

Many students struggle with math and for lots of them it is a pain in the neck. A teacher at Allen Community College’s Burlingame Campus uses his sense of humor to ease the pain.

Al G. Bra, whose real name is Steven Daniel Sodergren, was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas. While earning his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees at Emporia State University, Sodergren was required to teach some math courses as a graduate teaching assistant. The idea was not appealing to Sodergren at the time, but after one month of teaching the passion for instruction grew tremendously.

“I enjoyed the challenge of trying to break down mathematical concepts for non-majors, and the class time just seemed to fly by.  It is a genuine pleasure to see my students who work hard find success, and it is a privilege to play a role in their educational journey,” said Sodergren.

Sodergren has been teaching math at Burlingame since the fall semester of 2000, and, overall, has been a full-time math teacher for 23 years.

Mathematics is always a challenge for students, Sodergren conceded. The strategy he uses to break down the barriers of anxiety and uncertainty students have when they come into his class is to teach through humor. Many students throughout the years have told Sodergren that it was indeed easier for them to learn and remember complicated math concepts through an association of some sort of a joke, a character, or a song.

That is where the whole Al G. Bra persona comes from.

Sodergren once had a student named Tony who sang the lyrics “Cal-cu-late good times, come on” to the tune of Kool and the Gang`s Celebration (“Cel-e-brate good times, come on”) every time he entered the classroom. The student was bringing a positive atmosphere in the classroom, and Sodergren really liked the idea of it.

 “Inspired by Tony, I wrote my first song, ‘Calculation,’ by Skool and the Gang.  From that day, every time I hear a popular song I try to think of how I could work math words into the lyrics,” confirmed Sodergren.

Al G. Bra has been a songwriter of the mathemusician genre since 2002. His first CD contained 8 tracks including his first song Calculation. Sodergren has his own YouTube channel consisting of 43 videos. The most viewed video on Al G. Bra`s channel so far is Say that Funky Number, Math Guy; it has 58,500 views. In the video Al G. Bra sings with his math buddy Cal Q. Lus demonstrating their dancing and vocal skills. The video has lots of positive comments and “Likes” as the video turned out really creative and funny.

Al G. Bra has two friends, Cal Q. Lus and G. O. Metry, with whom he performs a couple of his songs.  Sodergren has his popular album about “a brainy place,” — Hotel Calcformula.

Besides a passion for math, Sodergren enjoys long-distance running. He’s run 29 marathons in 29 states.

“I have set a goal to run a full marathon race (26.2 miles) in all 50 states. My hope is to complete the 50 states within the next five to seven years.” said Sodergren.

Meantime, Sodergren (aka Al G. Bra) continues to teach students the complexities of mathematics through humor and songs. His technique has been recognized by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. He was awarded a medal of distinction in 2013.

“It was a humbling experience to be selected for the NISOD award, as I was chosen by my peers at ACC.  It has spurred me on to work my best every day to become a better teacher,” said Sodergren.

All songs and lyrics to them of this mathemusician can be found on Al G. Bra`s website, www.algbra.weebly.com