What do you get when you cross science with hip hop? Creatively engaged students, science as you’ve never experienced it before, and awesome videos! Science teacher Tom McFadden is mixing things up to create a hip hop video series (Science With Tom) that kids love, and that align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, @OfficialNGSS).
Implementing NGSS will undoubtedly challenge most schools and teachers in participating states on several fronts. Its emphasis on process-oriented tasks and dynamic, student-centered content will require large shifts in culture, and place heavy demands on time. Many students and teachers will be outside of their comfort zones; some teachers may not be comfortable covering engineering practices, while some kids are used to being given the right answer, as opposed to an inquiry-based approach that encourages problem-solving and debate. Add to that the fact that girls, minorities and other underrepresented students are falling behind in STEM compared to well-funded school districts, and the need for schools to get all kids up to speed and prepared for the future job market becomes even more crucial and challenging. Recently, science teachers sounded off on just a few of these challenges (Teachers Discussing the Challenges of Implementing NGSS).
We know what works. Recent research shows that the NGSS framework and project-based learning can significantly level the playing field for all students to excel in STEM (Can Project-Based Learning Close Gaps in Science Education?). But the road to success is not as straight and narrow as we’d like it to be.
Methods for assessing student learning under the new standards will need to be worked out. The National Research Council’s guidance document for implementing NGSS encourages teachers to make assessment part of instruction. It also encourages schools to collaborate with informal education institutions, which are also working hard to align their programs with NGSS and meet the needs of local schools. Partnering with these informal educators, community organizations, and businesses can make the necessary adjustments easier. Still, consistently aligning instruction, policies, and resources with the new standards can all seem a bit overwhelming.
Clearly, professional learning will be paramount. This includes informal learning like participating in online discussions with fellow NGSS teachers on Twitter (#NGSSchat, #scitlap, #PBLchat, #scistuchat) and joining free, informative webinars hosted by organizations like the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association). Such informal learning can be as effective for teachers as it is for students. Finding out how other teachers are coming at NGSS can be a great way to learn. Tom McFadden(@sciencewithtom), for example, is on a mission to help teachers find creative ways to implement NGSS.
Tom is beginning his third year of teaching eighth grade biology at The Nueva School (@nuevaschool), located in the San Francisco Bay area. Passionate about STEAM, Tom began making science music videos while working as a course associate in the Human Biology program at Stanford. He went on to earn a Master’s of Science Communication through a Fulbright scholarship, which allowed him to study in New Zealand.
Tom aims to merge biology with student questions about the humanities, history, ethics, medicine, and society. He also wants to share what he’s learned along the way with other teachers. His NGSS-inspired YouTube channel launches today. The show is designed to connect science basics with cutting-edge research; break student stereotypes of scientists; and integrate science with arts, writing, and the humanities. Each episode centers on a specific NGSS performance expectation. Guest scientists discuss their research and model practices based on that performance expectation. Each episode wraps up with a music video that summarizes the content. Teachers can use the Rap Genius tool to annotate and discuss the lyrics in class, and challenge kids to write the final verse themselves.
“I hope that teachers find it useful, that students find it entertaining, and that viewers feel compelled to participate by writing their own ‘Verse Twos,’ asking questions of the scientists in the comments, and subscribing to the YouTube channel. Most importantly, I hope it can supplement a science teacher’s current curriculum and inspire curiosity, investigation, and creativity,” explains Tom on his website. If the media coverage he’s received is any indication, Tom will have plenty of followers; he’s been featured by BuzzFeed, National Public Radio, the New York Times, and The Meredith Vierra Show. He also has a wide network of friends who are teaching science in similarly creative ways. Since many of his science teacher buddies will make guest appearances on Science With Tom, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn from them as well and expand your online personal learning network.
Interview with a Master Science Communicator
We recently had the opportunity to ask Tom about his work, how he engages kids in STEM, and his journey with NGSS.
Education Insider: You mention in your mission statement that Science with Tom is your chance to help teachers embrace the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). What made you embark on this journey and how does your series help teachers to understand, embrace and implement NGSS?
Tom: Since I started teaching middle school science three years ago, I’d been hearing about these newfangled standards. Some veteran teachers liked to say, “I’ve been already been doing NGSS in my classroom for the last twenty years,” and I had no idea what that meant. Other teachers found the format of the new standards too overwhelming and decided they would just keep doing what they’d always done. So I was driven to understand the ways that the NGSS could improve the way science is taught (for my own teaching), and to use Science With Tom the YouTube show to share what I’d learned with other teachers.
Education Insider: You’ve enlisted some hip hop heavy hitters to be guest-rappers on your science-raps. How did you manage to do this? Has this been a big draw in getting kids interested?
Tom: I’ve been making science music videos since I used to be an instructor in human biology classes at Stanford. The combination of song choice (for example, flipping “Money Ain’t a Thing” into “Regulatin’ Genes”) and getting kids involved in bringing in their favorite music (see: “Rosalind Franklin vs. Watson and Crick” below which has 194,494 views) built up some credibility among teachers, journalists, and musicians. Getting to perform with Lil Jon on The Meredith Vieira Show was a total surprise. Since then, I’ve been trying to collaborate more and more with other musicians and teachers, which I believe does help to pull kids in. Students should see many diverse faces and personalities engaging with STEM in creative ways.
Education Insider: As NGSS gets implemented in more school districts, what advice would you give to educators who are looking for exciting and creative ways to implement NGSS — are there tools, books or other things you can suggest? And how can parents be included in the process?
Tom: Sadly there is a lot of ignorance and misinformation about the NGSS. Paul Anderson (Bozeman Science, @paulanderson) has created a great series of videos to educate teachers and parents about what they actually are. The NGSS hub on the NSTA website is helpful as well. We’ll be launching episode #1 of Science With Tom this week, featuring an interview with Stanford microbiologist Lauren Popov (@lauren_popov) and exploring the theme of defining life (MS-LS-1-1). The “Teacher’s Edition” for that episode is a nice place to start for a concrete sense of how the NGSS can work.
Learn More about NGSS Strategies
You can see Tom and hear some live science raps at his “Science & Hip Hop – Creativity to Curiosity” session at the SWSXEdu 2016 conference. The session may just ignite your own creativity, and spark a wider conversation about how others are approaching NGSS implementation. You can also follow Tom on social media.
NOVA Education also has some suggestions for making content student-centered, and for brainstorming STEM integration across disciplines. You can also learn more about your state’s involvement with NGSS and find contacts and implementation plans online.
While the challenge may seem formidable, these resources can help you hit the ground running. As an early adopter, you’ll help shape what will eventually become a nationwide educational movement. You’ll also design approaches to tackling standards that will likely be in place for decades. Ultimately, your efforts will contribute to a more engaged, scientifically literate citizenry, and make your class time more fun in the process.
“It’s an exciting time to be a science educator!” — Tom McFadden
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