What do spaceships and Drake have in common?
Most people would reply nothing, but a team of educators from the Toronto District School Board and communities across the city beg to differ.
The school board held its inaugural Hip Hop Education STEMposium, dubbed ‘Free Your Mind’, at Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute recently. The STEMposium continued the evening of March 27 and the next day at Central Technical School.
The event assembled more than 450 teachers and students from grades 6 and up from 30 TDSB schools to experience a fusion of hip hop music and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
Lead organizer Ramon San Vicente believes Hip Hop and STEM go hand-in-hand.
“We’re looking at the connections between Hip Hop culture and STEM fields,” he said.
“STEM is about problem solving, inquiry, asking questions and finding solutions. So we’re exploring these concepts through a medium that young people are often very familiar with, hip hop culture.”
Referred to as a “platform for transformative education,” Free Your Mind consisted of 18 student workshops and four teacher workshops. These workshops, designed to demonstrate relations and applications between STEM and Hip Hop music, taught students and teachers familiar concepts in fresh, engaging ways.
“Let’s look at making music or making beats in hip hop,” San Vicente said.
“In the beat production workshop, students use software, computers and technology to create – through a design and engineering process – music and beats.”
Workshops were led by community educators and explored several educational subjects through a hip hop lens. The Marketing of Rap, Ecological Exploration, Read2Rap,
The STEM of Beat Making and Using Hip-Hop to Cultivate Science Genius were some of the many diverse workshops offered.
Keynote speaker Dr. Christopher Emdin was invited from Columbia University where he is a tenured professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology. Emdin has been behind several educational initiatives in the United States directed at engaging students in science through hip hop and rap music.
As he spoke to more than 400 students, Eastern Commerce’s assembly hall was silent with gazes fixed on the Emdin’s presentation that melded freestyle rhyming, inspirational stories and pragmatic explanations for why students should pursue science.
Emdin also offered a workshop to teachers about pedagogy, where the TDSB educators maintained a similar silence and deep focus on his every word.
Free Your Mind was the result of collaborative work from the TDSB Equity Department, where San Vicente is an instructional leader.
An elementary school teacher, St. Vincente joined the Equity Department to create a hip hop curriculum to better engage students. As an initial project, a book was made with lessons and activities exploring Hip Hop culture in various subject areas titled “Rhymes to Re-Education.”
This year, the department decided to “take it to the next level” and have a student conference to bring students, teachers and community educators together.
“We’re really excited about new ways to engage our students,” San Vicente said. “Some students are already engaged but there are groups of students that we are failing to serve properly.
“Our initiatives are about reaching all students, meeting them where they’re at, honouring the genius they have and celebrating the culture they bring to school.”
For more information on Free Your Mind, visit www.hiphopstemposium.com