The Big Idea: Hip Hop Ed

Something incredible is happening inside the Validus Prep Library. The energy is at a fever pitch for the performers, not celebrities, but students who write verses to popular beats using the terminology of their science lessons.

They're part of the Hip Hop Ed science genius program.  It uses the rhythmic repetition of rap to help teens memorize scientific concepts. It's the brainchild of Dr. Christopher Emdin, one of the top urban education experts in the country.

"You know I get excited.  We literally just go into the classroom and we say, 'who can rhyme?'" Dr. Edmin of Columbia University says, "and literally we'll have 95-96% of the kids say, 'I can rhyme' and then I might go and just spit a science bar and they're like, 'what just happened?'".

Students compete to represent their school in a battle rap science bowl competition.

"In hip hop, the kids are doing everything that you want them to be doing in school and in school, they're completely disengaged. And, we know, as an educator, I know that if a young person is engaged in a contest that's going on in a classroom, then they're more likely to be more successful in the content," Dr. Emdin says.

It is not a gimmick or time filling entertainment, according to Dr. Emdin, himself a product of New York City public schools.  He says hip hop helped him, especially the science-oriented verses of Gza from the Wu-Tang Clan, who is now a Hip Hop Ed supporter.

Earth science teacher Tara Ware uses Hip Hop Ed.  She says it's a gamechanger in many ways, not the least of which is improved test scores.

Ware believes it's vastly enhanced her ability to connect with her students and makes teaching more fulfilling for her.

"The biggest outcome is not just the work that they're doing.  It is what happens in their lives afterward," Dr. Emdin says. "so we have kids who are more engaged in science, more likely to ask for advanced science classes and now we have our group for the last four years who are going into college who are now declaring science majors in college."
The benefits of this program go well beyond the classroom.  The guidance counselor says that it helps so many of the students look at the potential for their lives in the whole new way.