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The Legendary ‘GZA’ Of The ‘Wu-Tang Clan’ Is Helping High School Kids Learn Science Using Hip Hop
November 22, 2012
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It's an age-old question: how do we inspire kids to learn? Especially when it's something they're not that excited about.

Learning to skateboard is fun. Studying physics or calculus - not so much.

It's even worse if, as a student, you don't really understand or relate to the stuff you're being taught.

Well, a professor from Columbia University has come up with a cool program for students at 10 public schools in New York City.

The idea is to teach them science using rap and hip-hop, in the same way 'Sesame Street' uses songs to help small children learn.

And just to make it that much cooler, Gza from the legendary rap group the Wu-Tang Clan is a part of it.

Right now, about 70% of the students in New York's public schools are African American and Hispanic.

And all of the schools taking part in the program are predominantly made up of black and Latino kids.

According to the latest U.S. Assessment of Education Progress, only 4% of African American high school seniors were strong in sciences - compared with 27% of whites.

the-legendary-GZA-of-the-wu-tang-clan-is-helping-high-school-kids-learn-science-using-hip-hop-feature2.jpg Professor Christopher Emdin is the man behind the program. He's an award winning educator, a hip-hop fan and he wrote a book called 'Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation'.

In a video on his YouTube channel, Emdin says "The thing about science in particular is that historically, it's been known as a discipline that's very Eurocentric."

"Any group that doesn't see themselves as part of the history of science becomes removed from it, and if we don't embrace the culture of the youth in front of it, we're saying that we don't want them to be successful academically. A culturally responsive pedagogy in the new millennium embraces hip-hop culture."

Here's another video, where Emdin explains his ideas.

So, where does Gza from Wu-Tang come in? Well, he met Emdin during a radio show at the Hayden Planetarium in New York.

They started talking about the similarities between rap and science - the need for curiosity, the ability to draw connections and make smart observations.

So they decided to collaborate on this project, which starts in January.

The plan is simple. Teach students the basics of science, then get them to create rap songs about what they learned instead of writing a traditional paper.

They can write the songs on their own or in a group (aka cypher), where they stand in a circle and take turns rapping.

"A hip-hop cypher is the perfect pedagogical moment, where someone's at the helm of a conversation, and then one person stops and another picks up," Emdin told The New York Times.

"There's equal turns at talking. When somebody has a great line, the whole audience makes a 'whoo,' which is positive reinforcement."

GZA will judge all the raps. The best ones will be posted on the website 'Rap Genius'. GZA will also appear in a video promoting the project and drop in on a few classrooms along the way.

And according to Emdin, GZA says "the rhymes can't be corny or wack." Students have to show they know the curriculum and will be graded on the content, lyrics, storytelling ability, flow and the complexity of their metaphors.

And teachers will be trained on how to incoroporate hip-hop into the class.

Emdin says they've already done a pilot and it works. He says attendance, interest and graduation rates all went up.

In the long run, he says he hopes to change the way city teachers relate to minority students and their interests. It's not so much about grades, he says, but keeping the students engaged.

The project will target grades 9-12, and cover sciences ranging from biology to physics.

GZA, who was born Gary Grice, also goes by the nickname "Genius" because of his deep lyrics and use of metaphors.

Last year, he was invited to speak at Harvard University's Black Men's Forum. And earlier this year, he spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He's also writing a solo album inspired by the quantum world with the help of physicists at Harvard and MIT.

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