Hip Hop Science Teachers Spreading the Word

You may recall an earlier GCP post describing Wu Tang Clan member GZA’s work on his album “Dark Matter”, which focuses on his interest in science. (“The Latest Lesson from Hip-Hop…Science!” May 31, 2012.) An article in today’s NY Times reports that GZA has recently teamed up with a Columbia professor and the website Rap Genius to use hip-hop to teach science in 10 New York City public schools. Dr. Christopher Edmin, an assistant professor of science education at Columbia’s Teachers College and a huge hip-hop fan, met GZA when they were both on a radio show hosted by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium. Their mutual interest in using hip-hop to encourage students’ interest in science led them to create this pilot science education program which will launch early next year.

As the article found here notes, GZA and Dr. Edmin are focused on using the rhythms and the social practices of hip-hop to keep students interested in science and better able to retain what they learn. According to Dr. Edmin, a good rapper has already acquired many of the skills required for success in science: curiosity, keen observation, an ability to use metaphor and draw connections. Furthermore, he notes, the way in which hip hop rhymes are shared, usually in a circle with one participant picking up the rhyme when another stops (also known as a hip-hop “cypher”), encourages and positively rewards good participation. Says Edmin, “All of those things that are happening in the hip-hop cypher are what should happen in an ideal classroom.”

Starting in January, the 10 schools will work with cyphers and rhymes to teach basic science concepts one day per week, with support from Dr. Emdin and his graduate students. The science students will write rhymes rather than papers; the best rhymes, as judged by GZA, will appear on Rap Genius, alongside lyrics of popular hits. (For those of you uninitiated in the ways of RapGenius.com, not only does it provide the lyrics to countless hip hop songs, but by clicking on various lines from the song you can get a detailed interpretation of what that particular rhyme means. Not only is it a popular site for legit hip-hop enthusiasts, but it is also a great resource for those of us aging music fans who appreciate hip hop but have no idea what the artists are talking about much of the time.) The science program is part of a broader educational movement to use students’ outside interests to engage them in class work.

I can already hear the murmuring about whether hip-hop is a legitimate teaching tool, and how our children should not be the guinea pigs for this kind of experimental learning. But as the article explains, this is a small program with a slow rollout, and I expect its effectiveness will be thoroughly assessed by Dr. Edmin and his team. So there will be time and effort spent determining whether this approach yields good results and how scalable the results can be. Besides, with all signs pointing to the STEM-focused industry as being the biggest future job provider for our children, and with a 35 point gap between the average scores of Black and white 8th graders in 2011 as reported here by the National Center for Education Statistics, we need to use every angle we can think of to encourage our sons (and daughters) to learn and succeed in science. GCP readers, what do you think?

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One response to “Hip Hop Science Teachers Spreading the Word

  1. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Spending
    some time and actual effort to generate a really good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot
    and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.