Many teachers have now seen the “Rosalind Franklin vs. Watson and Crick” video. Many want to do something similar. Over the months and years ahead I hope to hone all this wild west education experimentation into a more useful set of instructions. For now, I’ll give you the bare bones and hope you’re fired up enough to experiment yourself! (see some qualifiers at the end of the post).
All of the following ten steps were accomplished in weekly or twice-weekly sessions from February to May 2013.
1.) Intro: I would start with some cool examples of what other kids have done. I’d usually perform and get them generally hyped about this opportunity to bring their favorite music into the classroom. Just about every student I worked with had heard of Epic Rap Battles, and it was easy to sell them on the “make your own battle” proposition. I always emphasize the nature of science early, asking students to define science, and alerting them to the fact that we would be fleshing out this definition out by learning about how scientists think/work/debate.
2.) Roles: I alerted them to the diverse skills that would be needed to pull this off. There would be something for everybody (introverts and extroverts alike), and a chance to explore or show-off talents not always rewarded in school. Roles included: content experts, lyric writers, audio performers, video performers, costume designers, storyboarders, behind-the-scenes documentarians, and more. I typically did not assign roles, and rather let everybody do a little bit of everything, with certain individuals showing initiative and stepping into roles in a bigger way.
The KIPP Bridge Brainstorm on content and music.
3.) Brainstorming: I worked with the students and teachers to create two huge lists: 1.) science topics & 2.) artist/song choices. We did this early on, and did not pick our topic/song combo for a few weeks. This allowed students to continue to brainstorm and come up with creative combinations of the two (i.e. using “Clique” for a song about Watson & Crick).
4.) Rhyming: We played a few rhyming games and I asked students to articulate how they came up with rhymes. We discussed creative rhymes (don’t let them tell you nothing rhymes with orange –> see eminem video below) and asked them to collect examples of creative rhymes they would hear on the radio.
5.) Science & History Content: We would usually practice rhyming and discuss song structure for a few weeks, which allowed me time to go and read up on whatever topic we had chosen. For example, I read How I Killed Pluto by Mike Brown and watched a bunch of Nova episodes so that I could feel confident in teaching them the science behind the Pluto controversy.
One of many sessions where we went over classifying Pluto.
I taught the science and history in an integrated fashion, but I did it a bit didactically, since we were short on time. In education utopia I could have assigned them homework to research the science and history themselves. I did, however, frequently (each week) ask them to explain the content back to me.
Simple rhyming couplet from the continental drift battle.
6.) Lyrics & Song Structure: We moved on from putting rhyming words together to putting rhyming sentences together. While studying storytelling in songs, we tried to synthesize all the science history we had learned into one cohesive story. Once we had our story, we could begin translating essential points into rhymes. Sometimes students preferred to come up with completely original lyrics, though often we would use the structure from other songs and change the words.
7. Audio recording. Once we had our lyrics down, we recorded a demo (rough version) and let students practice before they auditioned. Meanwhile, I would usually have the lyrics fact-checked by a scientist in the field (for example, I got Pluto Killer Mike Brown to take a look at our Pluto lyrics and give them the OK – Thanks!). There would usually be a couple kids who were really confident in their lyrical ability, and they were the ones who recorded the audio (I would bring a microphone, stand, and my laptop to class to record them).
Our demo was completed, giving potential lyricists a chance to practice lyrics over spring break.
8. Story-boarding & Costume Design: While I was busy recording audio, I’d have the other students plan out their visions for the video. They could focus on story-boarding scenes, thinking of costumes, or drawing visuals. For those who were obsessed with lyrics and not with drawing, I would let them work on their own personal raps or songs. These were very free-flowing sessions. We would then come back as a class to agree on a basic storyboard and costumes.
9. Video Recording: Once we had audio recorded we would have acting auditions for who wanted to be in the video. The same kids who were vocalists would get first dibs on playing the same characters in the video. But students were so frequently absent, on detention, or camera shy, that we had to be flexible with casting. Via my grant and Kickstarter funds, I was able to rent costumes that students couldn’t acquire themselves, and hire videographers to bring in green screens and lighting so we could shoot in empty classrooms or libraries.
A sneak peak of the Brahe vs. Kepler shoot.
10. Editing: Because the previous steps took so much time, I was not able to have students do the audio recording/mixing or video recording/editing (which would have been awesome). What’s more, I also wanted to make sure the final products were high quality enough that other classes would enjoy watching them. My goal is that, now that the videos are made, students around the world will be able to flip our work into creative remixes/videos/performances and get a chance to practice these skills on their own (remix materials coming soon). For students who really wanted to get experience shooting and editing during this project, I encouraged them do behind-the-scenes documentation.
That’s the bare bones for now. Happy to address any questions you have in the comments.
Qualifier #1: My vision is that students and teachers will be able to remix these materials in less labor-intensive way than what is described above, using the lyrics, audio, or video to engage creatively (remixes) or critically (class discussions). That being said, no reason not to go big and do it all from scratch.
Qualifier #2: I lead these video-making projects in five different schools. Different grades. Different school structures (charter, public, alternative). Different meeting times (lunch, after school, during scheduled science class). Different opt-in models (some mandatory for the whole class, some by application). I had to dodge and weave and improvise at every turn to make it work. But the basic structure, described above, was the same across them all.