An unlikely meeting of science and rap as YouTube music video engages young minds

Teachers are transforming lessons by having pupils turn historical showdowns into rap battles

According to two young students from California, “Ain’t nobody fresher than Watson and Crick.” Or so they rap, in a performance uploaded to YouTube as part of an unlikely meeting of science and lyrics engaging young minds from the east to the west coasts of America.

The music video, by seventh-grade pupils from Oakland, explores the structure of DNA as well as its disputed discovery. The boys play Watson and Crick, the British scientists who drew their double helix in 1953 (“Science is so thrillin’, man that feelin’, When you go and start revealin’, Life’s secrets if you’re willing... Now we’re rich, famous, with Nobel Prizes, Man it’s good to be Watson and Crick…)

But then, up pops the boys’ classmate, who, to the tune of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl, states the case for Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray images were a crucial, often forgotten ingredient in the discovery by her male contemporaries.

“It has not escaped my notice that you’re a jerk,” she raps. “I should have got a Nobel for my work. But then I died so we’ll never know. But it’s not too late to recognize me though. I’m not a female scientist. I’m a scientist, man!”

Tom McFadden is the young scientist turned teacher behind the historical rap battle, one of dozens he has directed that have earned national interest in a country, like Britain, where student engagement in science is falling. “By bringing music, history, humour and video into science, I’m hoping to get students as fired up about the material as I am,” he says on his YouTube channel, which has received thousands of hits.

Across the US, in New York, battles of a different kind involve large audience and judges including Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA. “Modern-day rappers – all they talk about is money and all these unnecessary and irrelevant topics,” a high school pupil called Victoria Richardson told NPR. She was taking part in a Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. (Bring Attention to Transforming Teaching, Learning and Engagement in Science) competition, where she took on young rappers from nine different schools.

Christopher Emdin, a professor of education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, created the programme. “It’s about harvesting the power of urban youth culture,” he said. “Once they are able to incorporate the arts and their culture into the science content, they take it and they run with it.”

Despite perhaps the greater potential for cringe-making, science raps have engaged British children, too. Jon Chase is a London-based science communicator and rapper who was commissioned in 2008 to create a rap about astrobiology for Nasa. He has also performed at The Science Museum, The Royal Society, The Royal Institution and has lent his lyrics to children’s TV shows about science. His Nasa lyrics included: “We’ve been on Earth for many years and we are still producing answers; As time passes, collective knowledge advances.”

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Resistant Materials TeacherTh...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style