Christopher Emdin and former student Edmund Adjapong are both New York-based science teachers who share a love of hip-hop music. Both are involved in a program called Science Genius, which is being rolled out in Alberta by two Calgary-based organizations.
As a middle school student in the Bronx, New York, Edmund Adjapong was gifted but disengaged when it came to science, appearing to have no enthusiasm for the subject. However, one teacher, Christopher Emdin, was able to reach him, and he did it by meeting Adjapong on the boy’s own cultural turf.
"He used analogies and referenced hip-hop artists when he taught science and we wrote science raps that demonstrated my understanding of content," Adjapong explained by email after a recent workshop in Calgary.
Adjapong says his experience with Emdin showed him that he could be a successful scientist and that his music could help him achieve that goal. Now he is months away from receiving his doctorate at Columbia University, has returned to his childhood community as a Grade 6 science teacher and has become a program co-ordinator in a rap-science program that Emdin created.
Emdin’s Science Genius BATTLES program involves having students create science-themed raps and engage in rap competitions with students from their own and other schools. (BATTLES stands for Bringing Attention to Transforming, Teaching and Learning Science.)
The program is being launched in Alberta by Calgary’s Beakerhead Creative Society in collaboration with the National Music Centre. Organizers are hoping to recruit interested junior high and high school teachers in Alberta and prepare them for a planned science-rap competition in the spring.
"This approach would be especially beneficial to students who may not have seen themselves as scientists in the past," says Carolyn Wallington, Beakerhead’s education programs manager.
Wallington says organizers are especially interested in reaching First Nations students and those in economically challenged areas. A meeting to map out the process is scheduled for mid-November.
‘Deep in the nucleus’
Adjapong and Emdin introduced the Science Genius program to an enthusiastic group of supporters at a workshop during Beakerhead’s annual event in September, which it bills as a "smash-up of art, science and engineering."
As part of the workshop, Emdin and Adjapong described the success that Science Genius has had in reaching urban youth. The program has been profiled in the New York Times and by National Public Radio.
To illustrate the pedagogical elements of the program, the pair explained how many urban youth identify with rap/hip-hop as "a culture and genre of music that speaks to the realities of those who have been marginalized in society" but don’t often see themselves reflected in science. However, by inviting students to express themselves through their art, they often shared "their full socioemotional selves" by drawing connections between the science content and their own, often harsh, realities.
"Through the Science Genius BATTLES program, students of Alberta will engage in science in a non-traditional way, that is rooted in their culture, and be provided the opportunity to bolster science content knowledge and knowledge of self," Adjapong elaborated via email.
At the workshop, Emdin and Adjapong challenged participants to compose and perform rhymes featuring the content of cell theory. The educators and artists worked together to ensure the rhymes were scientifically accurate and true to the genre. One of the rhymes composed by participants appeared on the chalkboard.
Deep in the nucleus, DNA holds the key. / It’s telling the story of you and of me.
Local art educators Rebecca Dawn and Ty Fleming Vemb, both from the Globalfest festival, were especially enthusiastic with the approach because they have seen it used successfully in their own work and are looking forward to collaborating with schools.
"Youth who face challenges such as language barriers, discrimination, violence or isolation may be able to speak on these issues at the same time as they are exploring science curriculum through art," Dawn said, "thus activating a healing process essential for a sustainable, healthy life."
For more information
To find out how you can participate in Science Genius — Alberta, contact Carolyn Wallington, Beakerhead education programs manager at Carolyn@beakerhead.com.
Learn more about the Science Genius BATTLES program at www.hiphoped.com or chrisemdin.com.
Who are these organizers?
Beakerhead brings together the arts and engineering sectors to build and exhibit interactive works of art and entertainment, culminating in a five-day international event of art, culture, science and technology every September.
The National Music Centre is a Calgary-based, national cultural organization that’s devoted to amplifying a love, sharing and understanding of music. Its multimillion dollar facility houses more than 2,000 artifacts, exhibitions, a 300-seat performance space and recording studios.