Rap connects students to current and historic events

BY Elizabeth Jones  June 10, 2014 at 11:08 AM EDT

18 years of rap
When each year’s graduating students take the stage to grab their high school diplomas, it’s a fun and sometimes bittersweet exercise to look back at the events that defined their lives.

Thanks to Flocabulary’s “18 Years in Rap”, the 5 million students in 20,000 schools across the country who are graduating in 2014 can recall that researchers cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996, Google emerged in 1998, while Napster took a “permanent nap” in 2001. The rap song remembers the devastation of Columbine in 1999 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. In 2013, Boston had the marathon bombings, and in 2004 the Red Sox “reversed the curse.”

The creators say it’s a way for students to reflect on the defining moments that helped shape their lives.

Flocabulary’s online library of 500 songs and videos combine hip-hop music with educational content, designed for K-12 students to explore a variety of subjects.

“It’s easy for students to learn and remember with Flocab songs because rhymes are powerful mnemonic devices,” said Blake Harrison, a Flocabulary co founder and lyricist.

“One date that everyone remembers from history classes in middle school is 1492 – when ‘Columbus sailed the ocean blue’ [and] we apply that same technique to all kinds of subjects and create songs that teach to the standards with storytelling and humor,” said Harrison.

He thought of the concept for Flocabulary in high school, when he was having trouble memorizing facts for tests. He wondered why it was so easy to remember the lines to his favorite rap songs, but so difficult to memorize the definitions of new vocabulary words.

Harrison thought if a rapper released an album that defined SAT vocabulary words, students would have a fun and effective way to prepare for the exam.

PBS NewsHour Extra teamed up with Flocabulary to create an end-of-school year lesson plan featuring Flocabulary’s “18 Years in Rap”. Students will use their own experiences to explore and reflect on the events that have made the biggest impact from 1996-2014.

Resources include lyrics, fill-in-the-blank and matching exercises.

This story and PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.