Science Rap Contest: And the Winners Are…

BY Jenny Marder  July 1, 2013 at 2:30 PM EDT

Ernesto Lara’s video, “Elevation and Boiling Point,” has won first prize in the adult category for the NewsHour’s science rap contest.

Ernesto Lara, a 33-year-old math and Spanish teacher in Silver Spring, Md., 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, chosen as winner in the K-8 category for his rap on the formation of diamonds. View the winning videos here.

The videos were judged by a team led by Columbia University Teacher’s College professor Christopher Emdin. The contest was 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. (You can watch a video of that broadcast segment below.)

“Young people whose voices have been silenced are forever in search of an opportunity to be heard,” Emdin explained in the piece. “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.”

The PBS NewsHour science rap contest is modeled after a pilot project that encourages teachers to use rap songs to teach science. The NewsHour reported on the project in March.

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. View all of the videos along with the finalists here.