Chris Emdin [Rethinking Student Participation: A Model from Hip-hop and Urban Science Education]

As I walked into the room, there were two gentlemen sitting in the back row. I decided this was a good opportunity to start meeting people. I asked one what brought him to the Celebration and when he answered, “A big plane” and laughed, I knew it was going to be a good weekend!

It turns out they are Richard Cappo (a member of the Federal Advisory Board, veteran teacher of 42 years, and the Archdiocese of Baton Rouge, LA) and Mark Richterman (Principal for the Baton Rouge Magnet Arts and veteran teacher of 40 years).

“Hip-hop, really, at its core is the voice of the marginalized.”

Chris is releasing his new book “Science Education in the Hip-hop Generation” today, in honor of the Celebration and is sponsored to be here by Phi Delta Kappa who recently awarded him for his work in urban science education. His passion and research focuses on rethinking how we teach science and mathematics and honing in on the real issues in order to successfully teach science in the urban culture.

“Established frameworks for participation get glossed over…participation is a given…It needs to be focused on because it needs to be rethought…Work done in science education has been glossed over.”

There are many different approaches to dealing with the need to approach science education. Chris reminds his audience that it is important to look at student participation in science as well as what we think science is. What are we telling our students are the most important aspects of science? What kinds of interactions with science are we giving students?

These are the questions that are essential for successful science teaching. “It’s important to embrace the fact that we are different from our students.” Most importantly, Chris reiterates, we need to recognize the fact that we have a different culture from our students. From taking Chris’ Urban Science Education course at Teachers College, I have accepted a definition of culture as ways of knowing, thinking, and acting. We know, think, and act differently than our students and can capitalize on those differences in order to form “weak ties” with your students.

“What are you listening to?” Get into your students’ lives and get to know them based on their culture, not just as individuals.

“If you don’t have participation, you don’t have learning.” Chris draws a timeline of the attitude towards participation in the classroom starting in the Sputnik Era. In the 1950’s, student participation was categorized by hands raised around the room. In the 1990’s, educators were not satisfied with students individually raising hands and put students in groups. Chris argued this was really not fixing the problem because now our students are just raising their hand sitting in groups.

“We teach with a view of participation that only looks at participation through the lens of 1950’s participation.” Kids have learned to “play the game” by raising their hand in order to get a good grade because they know the teachers are only looking for hands in the air. Chris calls this the “Pretty Brown Girl Syndrome”.

Recently, Chris has observed and compared the engagement in classroom activity of the “hand raisers” and the “disengaged”. He discovered the two groups of students had the same knowledge of the content. The “engaged” students did not actually have any more content understanding because of the their participation.

Chris argues that you should allow class participation to happen in a Hip-hop style. The kids who need help and attention should feel free to raise their hands (usually along with, “Ooh, let me do it.”) and other kids may need to discuss the content on their own in the back. This is analogous to a rap cycle: one person stars “Yo”-ing and then raps while others beat-box, etc. Eventually, the one person has gone on too long and starts “Yo”-ing to communicate it is time to pass the baton. Allow students to work off of each other and help each other.

The classroom should be a working buzz; learning is happening in smaller spaces than entire classroom discussion.

A video clip shows a teacher loosing students in a content discussion. A student stands up and pushes the teacher out of the way and continues his lecture in a way the other students get it. Involving students in their own learning gives them the power to communicate content in such as a way as their peers can understand as the teacher gets out of the way of learning.

“You are, as the instructor, the content matter expert. You are not the pedagogical expert. The students know better how to communicate the content matter better than you.” That, Chris argues, is participation.

“A kid who’s engaged talks with his hands is engaged.” This comes from Hip-hop; physical movement is a sure sign of a student being engaged in learning.

After his talk, Chris had his first-ever book signing! His books sold out. Yay Chris!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Hip Hop is a voice!


  2. Posted by Pam Andrews on February 20, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Great article!


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