Science + Music, the Science Rap Academy

Students research, write, and produce their own science music videos; substituting words from their favorite songs with lyrics they write.

Photo of Tom McFadden
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In my Rap Science Academy, students substitute the words of their favorite songs with lyrics they write themselves based on science topics we study. We take it one step further, planning, filming, and editing videos to accompany our songs, as well.

Last year, students made ‘Hubble’ in honor of the Hubble telescope’s 25-year anniversary. Check it out on my YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hgfp92_9ToU) along with my Next Generation Science Standards-inspired show, "Science With Tom.”  I hope that teachers find the show useful, that students find it entertaining, and all viewers are sparked to participate by writing their own "Verse Twos," asking questions of the scientists in the comments, and subscribing to the YouTube channel.  Most importantly, I hope it can supplement a science teacher's current curriculum and inspire curiosity.

How does this idea help to spark student curiosity?

There are so many ways for students to find their own way to shine. From writing lyrics to thinking of new topics to rap about, editing video to finding images, students represent what they learn in ways that excite them most.

What grade level is this idea most appropriate for?

  • Middle School (5-8)

Evaluation results

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6 comments

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Photo of Cole Godvin
Team

Hi Tom,
I know teachers have also created rap videos here at The Nueva School in classes across the disciplines and they are always incredibly galvanizing in terms of collecting, organizing and transmitting information. Have you found that your students have greater recall with information they worded into a rap.
I also want to note that I appreciate your exchange with Dan below -- I think it is amazing that you also use this exercise as an opportunity to discuss cultural appropriation.
Best,
Cole

Photo of Tom McFadden
Team

Hi Cole,

Thanks! My hunch is that song-writing does aid recall, though I'd love to conduct a study to see how far that really goes in terms of depth of understanding and duration of memory aid (years? decades?). I know that the popularity of the videos among student's peers definitely aids in teaching. For example, every kid for several grades knew all of the words to "That's Metal" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlBKsbCLY24) when it came out. And I guarantee that every one of them could tell you that metals are shiny, malleable, and have something to do with loosely held electrons. The more interesting question to me is whether the writing process aids with depth of conceptual understanding. I find that this is the case if the videos are used in the context of a class where students are delving deep into the material.

Thanks again for the note!

-Tom

Photo of Dan Ryder
Team

Tom, thank you for sharing this amazing bit of ohmygeezthisiscool with The Guild.

I'm immediately struck with the quality of what the kids are producing in terms of knowledge and wit and all the good things. Pedagogically, I was inspired by how the experience turns every musical interaction -- every playlist, every Spotify search, every AT 40 countdown -- into an opportunity, a "What If . . . ?" and a "How Might We . . .?"

I'm super curious about the struggles you've encountered and how you've overcome them along the way. Have you any stories of "Oh man . . . " that you could share?

Photo of Tom McFadden
Team

Hi Dan. Great questions.

One struggle is that writing lyrics doesn't come naturally to everybody, and takes some practice. Group size is also really important, and you want to make sure everybody is able to contribute (but writing a song by committee can be challenging). For all of these reasons, the lyric-writing stage is the hardest and most important. It takes a lot of iterations to get something that is accurate, clear, catchy, and tells a cohesive scientific story.

Once you get those lyrics nailed down, the audio and video production are so exciting for the kids that they are willing to devote a significant amount of energy outside of class time to shooting and editing.

The "headshakes" or pitfalls that are important to avoid surround cultural respect. If kids or teachers don't have a deep understanding or respect for hip hop and hip hop culture, they run the risk of embracing stereotypes that will be embarrassing and offensive.

Photo of Dan Ryder
Team

What have you done to wrangle that lyric writing and that culture respect piece? I'm asking in part to help others here on the Guild and also because I've been thinking about doing similar work and would love any insights that you've got.

I've done a hip-hop vs. country comparison activity for years now and just gave it a new tweak this year using Kendrick Lamar and Luke Bryan alongside Jay-Z and Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and 2 Pac. Seeing how the differences are more aesthetic than content/thematic has helped us talk about cultures outside our experiences with a bit more grace and tact. (Though not always, hence my question.)

Photo of Tom McFadden
Team

Re: lyric writing. Giving it enough time for multiple drafts has been the key for me. I have some specific spreadsheets and tools that provide some guidelines that have been helpful in terms of aligning content with flow and rhyme scheme.

Re: culture, I try to get the kids to talk explicitly about cultural appropriation (this video by Amamndla Stenberg can be a nice starter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1KJRRSB_XA), and to include some education about the history and influence of hip hop (so that their conceptions are not left to what is on the radio and on television). Then I get them to find examples of "educational music videos" that they think are examples of "getting it right" and those that are embarrassing/offensive.