New pedagogical practices in the field of science are detailed in John Leland’s article “A Hip-Hop Experiment.” According to the article, GZA from the legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan is joining forces with Dr. Christopher Emdin of Columbia University’s Teachers College to promote a hip-hop based pilot program for science education in ten public high schools in New York. The program fuses rap music with the curriculum by having students create rhymes using the science concepts they are learning in the classroom. The goal of the project is to make the subject of science more engaging to African-American and Latino students, “who together make up 70 percent of New York City’s student body.”
In 2010, Dr. Emdin published his book Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation, hoping “…to change the way city teachers relate to minority students, drawing not just on hip-hop’s rhymes, but also on its social practices and values.” The experimental movement away from a more traditional method of science education is a response to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress which reported that, “Only 4 percent of African-American seniors nationally were proficient in sciences, compared with 27 percent of whites.” GZA, who dropped out of the New York public school system in 10th grade, always retained an interest in science and is currently intellectually exploring the physical world in songs he is writing for his next album ‘Dark Matter.’ He provides a role-model for students in the program that Dr. Emdin believes “will undercut the students’ fear of science, or the stereotype that scientists are all white people.”
Dr. Emdin describes the structure of the sharing environment as that of a “hip-hop ‘cypher'” in which “…someone’s at the helm of a conversation, and then one person stops and another picks up…There’s equal turns at talking.” This sounds very much like the ideals of the Socratic Seminar, which requires speaking and listening skills as well as emphasizing a supportive, interactive and exciting student-centered academic community. This forum also provides an opportunity for students to take risks with language and tap into their creativity in a way that formal writing assignments may hinder.
I am curious to hear the feedback from this program. It seems like it could be a very successful technique for helping students understand and make connections to the physical world. Additionally, writing the rhymes will undoubtedly improve English Literacy skills and encourage linguistic experimentation. Science teachers could even collaborate with English teachers, who could incorporate discussions on poetic rhythm, metaphor, form, meter, etc. in conjunction with the students’ writing. The pilot program also relies on having an authentic audience with whom to share the work. This aspect furthers the motivation and engagement of the students with the material, which will become less stagnant and more malleable, relevant and meaningful.