Tom McFadden is a teacher from the Nueva School in the Bay Area. He started making science raps for his students at Stanford. Now he helps kids of all ages learn science by making science music videos. I must say, his methods are impressive and he has a fantastic Youtube channel to accompany what he’s doing. I stumbled across his NGSS-aligned show while researching one of our videos. All teachers really should know what he’s doing. I wanted to ask Tom a few questions about his channel.
Fill us in on how you’re using technology/media to increase learning?
So many ways. I use YouTube videos all of the time, and it allows you to have a really dynamic emergent curriculum. When a student brings up a specific virus or a specific ecosystem or a specific animal, I can immediately bring up a photo or video that will bring the example to life. But the most notable way I use media is in teaching my “Science Rap Academy” elective, where students research, write, direct, and edit science music videos.
What inspired you to start doing this?
Bill Nye, Epic Rap Battles, and the “Hot Cheetos and Takis” music video. I thought there would be so much power in having students use narrative music videos to communicate science to each other. This Rosalind Franklin rap battle is a good example.
Why do you think it’s important – how does it benefit students?
On an interdisciplinary project like this, every student gets a chance to shine. Whether delving into the science, writing lyrics, singing/rapping, story boarding, costumes, shooting, or editing. There is a lot of power to working in a team to produce a high quality final product that will reach a large audience. Then, when students around the world see the work those students have put in, it takes on a whole new scale of benefit.
What is the hardest thing about this undertaking?
Making a high quality educational music video is labor and resource intensive. It takes a long time, can cost money, and takes a tremendous amount of student effort/energy. Luckily, students are highly motivated since they know their video will go onto the YouTube channel and be seen by not only their friends and the school but kids all over the world. It can also be tricky to balance different talents and skill sets to make sure that every student get their chance to shine. Luckily, working things out as a team is a big part of the learning experience.
What feedback have you had so far about the program?
Do you have a vision for it 5 years from now? If so, where is it going?
Thanks to a grant from New Schools Venture Fund, I’m going to be able to incorporate “Science With Tom” as an educational media company. My vision is to work with scientists and teachers to make highly engaging videos and lessons. The “Science Rap Academy” model of having students create their own videos will be a large part of it.
What’s the best way for others to take advantage of what you’re doing?
Subscribe to Science With Tom! Check out our videos and see if there are any that I’ve made in the past that may work for you (I’ve covered biology, chemistry, earth sciences and more). On my own music videos I’ve started leaving the second verse blank so that students, teachers, and science lovers can write their own ‘Verse Two.” Write one!
Do you have any advice for other teachers that may want to utilize media to increase learning?
Start playing around with whatever is exciting to you! Learn from your students, since they are often experts in various domains. Don’t be afraid to learn alongside your students!