Summer catch-up, part 3

This might not be a real trend, but it sure feels like one.

Facilitating student science songwriting and performing is hard, and past efforts along these lines have seemed pretty intermittent and isolated. But a number of additional related projects have emerged this year.

I’ve previously mentioned my 6-week Music+STEM course for high school students. A couple of the products of this course were songs about DNA polymerase and proteins.

In June we got a closer look at Chris Emdin’s science education through hip-hop program, thanks to a compilation of Science Genius Rap B.A.T.T.L.E.S. finalists. (B.A.T.T.L.E.S. = Bringing Attention to Transforming, Teaching and Learning Science.)

The educational significance of these raps has been explained by Emdin in an interview smartly excerpted by Robert Gonzalez for io9.com.

Emdin: A lot of people do hip hop pedagogy [where they think] ‘kids like rap, [so] let’s rap,’ and they create raps or they perform raps and it doesn’t work. And the reason why it doesn’t work is because it’s what goes on in school already, [set] to rhyme. And that doesn’t work.

The distinction between saying something that rhymes and being a prolific MC [is that the latter] requires analogy, metaphor, drawing connections, weaving stories

Nice: And… cross references

Emdin: yeah

Nice: Which means you have to learn and know some knowledge here and some knowledge here in order to access that and bring it together.

Emdin: Absolutely. I was working with a young person once, and we get into the classroom and I want him to learn about water. So I teach him the lesson and he says ‘yeah, the lesson was alright,’ so I go ‘look, you’re a rapper… spit a rap about [water]’ and he starts rapping about everything but water. He’s like ‘I’m fly, I’m sick.” He had like one line, ‘I flow like water’ … and I’m like ‘that’s not going to work. Go home, read the text book, come back and write a new rhyme.’

And he comes back in the morning and he’s like ‘yo, it’s type hard to spit a 16 about H2O.’

Meanwhile, Tom McFadden has been staging his own science rap battles: Rosalind Franklin vs. Watson & Crick, Pluto-is-a-planet people vs. no-it’s-not people, etc. In addition to the advantages of the Emdin approach, this also focuses students’ attention on the data upon which scientific arguments (and scientific progress) are based.

Getting students to tackle actual methods and data in their songs is not easy; I know because my own course was a complete failure in this respect! Kudos to Tom for this engaging approach for highlighting the process of science.

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