When Science Meets Hip-Hop

By Clara Pak — August 09, 2013 1 min read
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The short National Public Radio documentary piece above highlights a few participants from last month’s Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. (Bring Attention to Transforming Teaching, Learning and Engagement in Science) competition, where young rappers from New York public schools showcased original hip-hop performances all centered on one theme: science.

Christopher Emdin, an assistant professor of science education at Teachers College, Columbia University, founded the science-themed rap competition in hopes of engaging students who may not be initially attracted to science.

“Science Genius is about harvesting the power of urban youth culture,” Emdin told NPR. “Once they are able to incorporate the arts and their culture into the science content, they take it and they run with [it].”

Jabari Johnson, a senior at Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts in Harlem, N.Y., won this year’s competition with his rap performance titled “Quest for Joulery,” a play-on-word with joules, the unit of energy. Among his prizes, he won the opportunity to spend a day in the recording studio with GZA, a member of Wu-Tang Clan.

The NPR piece cited a September 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce that found blacks and Latinos half as likely to have STEM jobs as whites. Emdin is hoping programs such as Science Genius will encourage black and Latino students to take an interest in science, providing them with a different approach to understanding and excelling at it.

Emdin isn’t the first to experiment with using hip-hop as a teaching tool. Check out this piece about how an educator utilized his students’ interest in hip-hop to relate certain history topics and this one on the lessons a successful hip-hop artist can teach educators.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.