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Brains and Beakers: Raps on Science

By Chantell Williams

A couple years ago I wrote a song about geography to the tune of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. I still remember every single word of that song… too embarrassing to actually write here, but it helped me pass my test. Music can help with learning and memory and can be used as a tool in the classroom. That’s one reason why educator and rapper, Tom McFadden, is bringing battle raps to science class. He created a curriculum to teach middle and high school students how to write raps about important scientific concepts.

McFadden brought his writing workshop to Brains and Beakers, Youth Radio’s interactive science series. He also brought a group of 7th graders to perform an imagined rap battle between James Watson and Francis Crick versus Rosalind Franklin.
The middle schoolers representing Watson and Crick told the story of how the scientists got all the credit for discovering the double helix structure of DNA molecule: “Now we’re rich, famous with Nobel prizes, man it’s good to be Watson and Crick.” But Franklin, who contributed data but received little credit, fired back, “Without my data you would have taken ages, I was almost done you could read it in my papers. You showed my data behind my back, so it’s not just going to happen like that.”

After the performance, McFadden gave Youth Radio students a chance to develop their own raps about environmental science. Here are some of the highlights:

“Driving in your hummer, looking good for the summer/ You’re polluting the air, well that ain’t really fair.”
–Sunday Simon

“Seasons getting hotter, can you feel it? I do. The ozone getting crowded with that CO2. It clogged up the sky, it trapped in the heat. Pretty soon we’ll be wet, with water at our feet.”
–Skyler Bryant

Not only did the rapping help students to learn about the history of science, it was pretty entertaining too. I wonder what other topics would sound good in a rap. Maybe math? I’d like to hear that in the classroom.

More from Youth Radio’s science desk, including past Brains and Beakers: Gamifying Air Pollution and the Science of Taste.