Daily Video

March 29, 2013

How Hip-Hop Can Help Unlock a Passion for Science

Watch Songs for Biology: Students Write Hip-Hop to Learn Science on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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How can a teacher engage a classroom full of high school students in a morning biology class? As it turns out, a little music can make the difference at inner-city high schools in New York.

Professor Chris Emdin of the Columbia University Teachers College pioneered Science Genius, a program that uses hip-hop to help students get hooked on science, particularly urban and minority students who are often left behind.

Emdin insists the program is more than a gimmick.

“The basic concept is, they love hip-hop, don’t love science, let’s find a way to figure it out,” he says.

Emdin believes the program works because outside of learning science concepts, students also have to practice revision, vocabulary, research, presentation and creativity.

The program has star appeal as well. Rapper GZA, member of the Wu-Tang Clan, was once a grade 10 dropout, but has turned himself into a science geek and helped co-found Science Genius. He recently made a surprise appearance at Bronx Compasss High in New York City, one of the Science Genius sites, to rap about gravity and the cosmos.

But are students actually learning more science with hip-hop? Student Keegan Dillion thinks so. “I lost my passion for science…but now that they’re mixing it up with music, I feel like I can get like an A+.”

Create your own science rap to win a shout out from GZA

Enter your own science rap or hip-hop verse for a chance to win a personal video shout-out from GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan along with a PBS NewsHour mug signed by the rap legend himself. Our contest is modeled after the Science Genius competition, a partnership between GZA, Emdin and Rap Genius. Entries will be judged by Emdin and two of his Columbia University Teachers College graduate students.

Click here for instructions on how to submit your video


“Everything in education is a gimmick. The present world, particularly of urban education, is filled with gimmicks. Unfortunately, those gimmicks have no grounding in the youth understandings and culture,” – Professor Chris Emdin, Columbia University Teachers College.

Warm up questions

1. What keeps you engaged in the classroom?

2. How do you learn best? What techniques do you have for retaining information?

3. What do you think could be done in the classroom to make learning science more fun?

Discussion questions

1. What did you find most interesting about this video?

2. Do you think you would learn well in this program? Why or why not?

3. Do any of your classes use interdisciplinary techniques to teach you information? If so, how do you feel about them?

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