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Hip Hop In The Science Classroom

Have you ever rated a student’s work with emojis? Nope. Used mnemonics to help students learn? Yep. Write a rap about the structure of the cell? Nope?
 This is how Tom McFadden, better known as Science Tom, started his talk about Hip Hop in the Science Classroom. Using this call and response adapted from recent hit single “Choices,” by E-40 – a well-known rapper - Science Tom kicked off a highly entertaining and energetic session about using what is ostensibly the most popular music genre of our time to help students learn difficult science topics.
As Tom put it, “hip hop is the kids’ language,” and putting instruction in terms that are more readily accessible to them is the key to engaging them and keeping them interested.
Tom achieves this by creating a variety of learning materials that use popular hip hop tracks with lyrics rewritten to fit the material his students are learning. He has re-made entire tracks, created “fill in the blank” video quizzes and has even created karaoke-style videos for his students. By learning the concepts Tom teaches through easily recognizable music remixes, students are able to more easily remember, and enjoy, their science lessons. But the benefits to Tom’s methods go far beyond the simple, though useful, mnemonic devices.
Tom’s real success is allowing his students to take over the creation of the lesson raps. In their capacity as the Science Rap Academy, Tom’s students become their own lyricists, producers and even video directors. By handing over the power of choice and self-direction to his students, Tom is achieving his self-admitted goal of collective effervescence in his classroom. Collective effervescence is a term coined by sociologist Émile Durkheim that essentially defines how the aggregated passion of a group about something can unify them and enhance collaboration.
By allowing his students to share in his passion for hip hop, Tom has been able to harness their attention and redirect their passion to one for learning – all while unifying them as a group. Although Tom teaches science, he readily admits that there’s no reason keeping his methods from being applied to any other subject and, for that matter, any other style of music.
The key, in the end, is not the use of hip hop in and of itself, but the willingness to be creative (and a little adventurous) in seeking to connect the classroom with the cultural reality of the students’ lives.
Elliot Mayen is the brand manager for the National Math and Science Initiative.