Winning Rap of Science Genius 2013
Connecting learners with curricular content so they take ownership of it and make it their own necessitates that design and delivery of learning experiences meets two requirements.
- It must be meaningful to learners.
- It must make sense to learners.
In a paradigm of top-down education reform that effectively limits teacher autonomy, this is easier said than done. How much flexibility (or encouragement) do teachers have to adapt curricula and enlist students as cocreators of educational experiences? Not much. Nor are they trained in that capacity. The result is scripted content designed for average students across the nation, making it effective for no one because no learner is average across the board. (For more on this topic, check out Todd Rose's brilliant TEDxSonoma talk on the "Myth of Average.")
A small group of passionate and dedicated educators in New York City, lead by Columbia Teachers College professor Christopher Emdin and Wu Tang Clan's GZA, are making a serious case for swinging the pendulum toward personalizing learning that is both meaningful and makes sense to learners.
At the intersection of science and hip hop is Science Genius, a pilot program that employs music as a catalyst and vehicle for connecting learners with scientific content. The design is fairly simple. As part of demonstrating their understanding and competency, students explain scientific concepts by dropping rhymes over beats.
The results speak for themselves.
In this New York Times piece, students participating in the program report,
"We all hated our science class before," said Victoria Richardson, 14. "Now I can't wait till Friday to go to science class." The challenge of writing credible raps—which require dense allusions—meant that they had to do extra research, and to work together. "You can't just say, 'DNA, I want to play,'" Victoria said. "You have to make sense."
Musa Kaira, 20, an immigrant from Gambia, West Africa, was one of those who benefited. A senior at English Language Learners and International Support (ELLIS) Preparatory Academy in the Bronx, Mr. Kaira said he had not liked science and had struggled with the class work.
But once rap was added to the mix, "I started staying after school, and used the lab to make a rhyme about freezing and melting," he said.
"I've been rapping since I was 9," said Jabari, who plans to pursue a musical career next year rather than attending college. "It came naturally. When you put science and rap together, you get something beautiful."
The program is beginning to gain press as evidenced in a November 2012 New York Times article and this reporting by ABC on the Science Genius competition. For good reason. This is an prime example of the sort of competency-based experiences that extend learning beyond the classroom and school walls and into the communities and homes of students. More than achievement, these type of experiences help turn students into lifelong learners.
Jason Flom is the director of learning platforms at whole child partner Q.E.D. Foundation where he works with education leaders, educators, and students to build, inspire, cultivate, and sustain transformational learning practices that empower all learners. During his 11 years as an elementary teacher, he specialized in service learning projects that amplified student voice to affect positive change. This post originally published on the Q.E.D. Blog and was featured in the organization's newsletter.