By age 4, Ernesto Lara was breakdancing in his neighborhood park in Queens, New York. By 19, had written his first complete hip-hop song.
Now a 33-year-old math and Spanish teacher in Silver Spring, MD, Lara has won the adult category in the PBS NewsHour's first science rap contest. He joins Raymond Zhuang, Timmy Beckmann and Emily Gao, who won the high school category for their song, Energy Playa, and Jacob Poole, a 7th grader, who won the K-8 category for a video on the formation of diamonds.
The videos were judged by a team led by Teacher's College professor Christopher Emdin, inspired by this video by Wu Tang Clan rap legend, GZA, and modeled after a project that uses rap and hip hop to engage students in low-performing schools. PBS NewsHour correspondent Ray Suarez reported on the project earlier this year.
"Young people whose voices have been silenced are forever in search of an opportunity to be heard," Emdin explained in the NewsHour report. "And they don't have the tool to be heard in schools necessarily all the time, and so they look to hip-hop to have a voice.
Lara's video, called Elevation and Boiling Point, teaches you just that - how elevation influences the boiling point of water, and it does so using simple lyrics that clearly detail the physical process. The content, Lara said, was inspired by a lecture by his sophomore chemistry teacher, Mr. Lewis, though he did his own research to be sure he nailed the science. Max Bent wrote the instrumental track and produced.
"My main goal when I do these things is to preserve the rigor and precision of the content matter," Lara said. "If we're going to respect the subject, then we should be using it to inform. We don't want to just throw key words out there. The history teacher is not going to just say Napoleon. There's going to be explanation to it."
Both the high school and K-8 raps were part of extra credit class assignments. Energy Playa was created for a 10th grade chemistry class; Creating Diamonds for a technology class.
The winners were chosen from the following list of finalists.
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What I Do, Dan Gareau
Rap About Rocks, Steven Powell and Chris Bagley
Elevation and Boiling Point, Ernesto Lara
Properties of Matter, Mary-Katherine Graf
Mantis, Zach Powers
Universal Gravitation, Nick Neuman and Joel Trager
Fibonacci Sequence, Elissa Malcolm
Science of Stress, Kenny Brown
What is Matter, Art Vandelay
Rap About Clouds, Adam Little
Periodic Table Rap, Steven Friedman-Romell
Supernova Rap, R.A. Nocera
Water, Gases and Polarity, Adam, Ian and Nick
Classification Biology Rap, Sydney Sharp
Energy Playa, Timmy Beckmann, Emily Gao and Raymond Zhuang
Kinetic Molecular Theory
Space Exploration, Roy Haaf
Human Reproduction, Courtney Faiella
Organelles in Cells, Asude B. Sahan and Ragini Patel