As a science teacher in the same school system where I attended elementary and high school, I have noticed a significant lack of engagement and what many call an aversion for learning science among Black male students.
I see many reasons why students of color, who mostly populate urban schools, may not be interested in science and envision the field of science as distant and inaccessible.
As a teacher in a public school in the Bronx, I noticed that my students had a very similar connection to hip-hop culture as I had as an adolescent.
Students sing along to hip-hop music that they hear blaring from speakers from cars driving past the school. They constantly tap their pencils on the desk, replicating popular hip-hop beats. Even students’ mannerisms from the way that they talk, dress and walk are directly connected to hip-hop culture.
Students’ interest in freestyle battle rap, drawing and dance also have direct connections to hip-hop culture.
As a student in New York City public schools, I rarely felt a connection between my lived experiences and culture to the content that I was being taught. Schooling was never engaging to me, it was just something that I knew I had to get through.
Many years later, I notice that Black males I work with in schools share the same sentiment to schooling I did as a child.
Many studies suggest that Black male students begin to fall behind their White counterparts in the fourth grade in science, literacy and math due not only to limited instruction time and socioeconomic factors, but also a failure to embrace and use students’ culture to anchor instruction.
To effectively engage urban students—especially Black males—in learning science, educators must utilize an alternative approach to teaching that considers the realities and cultural backgrounds of these students.
Research indicates that Black students are underrepresented in Advanced Placement and gifted programs, but overrepresented in special education and discipline referrals. They are less likely to be enrolled in rigorous coursework in science and math, and more likely to drop out of high school.
When we consider the gap of achievement between students of color, who largely populate urban schools, and their peers, it is important to recognize that the curricula many schools are using have not been modified to incorporate and reflect the lives of Black students. The Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling may have desegregated schools across the nation, but no action was taken to integrate curricula or instructional practices that support students of color.
As an educator, I realized that the lives and cultures of my students were not represented in what we were teaching. Therefore, as a teacher-researcher, I took on the task of developing a framework for teaching and learning that utilized hip-hop and youth culture to engage students in science.
I developed teaching approaches that align to each of the creative elements of hip-hop—employing techniques such as emceeing, B-boys and girls, graffiti art and breakdancing. Using these strategies to engage students, I saw they not only connected to the science we were learning, but they could also engage with their peers in class similarly to how they would engage with each other outside of school, making teaching and learning seamless.
Hip-hop culture is youth culture. It is consumed by a vast majority of my students. When we effectively engage our students, they begin to feel a real connection to the classroom and the content we’re teaching. For our Black male students, using hip-hop as a method of engagement does exactly that.