Pop Culture ‘“ A Path to Learning

By Nick Jones, CEI Intern

Rappin MathFrom rapping teachers to SimCityEDU – the classroom edition of SimCity, pop culture in the classroom is not a new teaching strategy but it is gaining more steam in teaching circles.

Pop Math

Much of the dialogue regarding implementing pop culture in the classroom is associated with literacy and language arts learning, but teachers can also find success using pop culture with math and science concepts. Take the Rappin’ Mathematicianâ„¢ for instance. After failing to reach his inner-city students, Alex Kajitani decided to use a medium that was of widespread interest to his students, rap.

With lyrics like ‘just line up the dot and give it all you got,’ students are motivated to add and subtract decimals with confidence and coolness. For fractions, Kajitani simplifies the meaning of an improper fraction by spitting, ‘An improper fraction, yo what’s that? The denominator’s skinny but the numerator’s fat.’

Kajitani isn’t the only rapping teacher, though. A simple Google search will pull up plenty of instructional raps on a number of subjects.

Comic Relief

Like hip-hop, the use of comic books to inspire kids is a growing teaching trend. With continued popularity among youth, comic brands like DC and Marvel already manufacture everything from backpacks to TV programs, so it is no wonder organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) have published literature touting the benefits of comic book education. A popular tool for teaching with comic books is Reading With Pictures: Comics that Make Kids Smarter, an anthology that includes comics like George Washington: Action President. Another reference work for teachers is Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels, a book for engaging students with literature like The Scarlett Letter. Additionally, the NCTE cites using comic books as an aid in teaching concepts like outlining, paragraphing, and punctuation.

Making Science Pop

As discussed in the September Wow! Ed Newsletter, gaming and mission-oriented learning is a popular trend among education innovators. Likewise, the makers of SimCity, the popular urban planning simulation game, created SimCityEDU: Population Challenge. In the game, students employ their problem-solving abilities, navigate, science topics and ultimately learn about pollution and the environment. Another intersection of science and pop culture lies with NASA, much of NASA’s efforts since their last major shuttle launch have been focused on science education. For the last two years, NASA and Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds, have teamed up to create Angry Birds: Space. In the game, players continue the mission of Angry Birds but this time, roving Mars and exploring space, where they can click links that provide snippets of information about concepts like microgravity and the planet Mars itself. The latest NASA contribution to the game was in June, when they introduced asteroids to the plot.

Social Media Resources

While seemingly time consuming, the aforementioned pop culture tools aren’t hard to find. In fact, there is a multitude of resources for educators to consult when looking for pop culture activities and references. For one, there’s Making Curriculum Pop, ‘a resource sharing community for educators interested in better practices and teaching with pop culture.’ The website is broken down into teaching subjects. Teaching groups range from fashion and education to more traditional groups like elementary educators. Another resource for pop culture-inclined teachers is TeacherTube, a video streaming website like YouTube but all about education, there, teachers can find everything from math raps to Halloween safety tips.

As the discussion continues, so too do the resources and materials for teachers to reference. Teaching with pop culture content demonstrates a democratic classroom where all students are welcomed and their interests are heard.

References

Goble, R. Making Curriculum Pop. Retrieved 2014, from http://mcpopmb.ning.com/

Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom. In The Council Chronicle. Retrieved 2014, from http://www.ncte.org/magazine/archives/122031

Kajitani, A. Biography. In The Rappin’ Mathematician. Retrieved 2014, from http://alexkajitani.com/biography.html

Cutler, D. (2014, September 17). The New Teachers’ Aides: Superman and Iron Man. The Atlantic. Retrieved 2014, from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/09/how-comic-books-are-creating-super-classrooms/380236/2/

Epic Struggle Between Birds and Pigs Goes on with a Martian Twist. (2012, August 23). In NASA. Retrieved 2014, from http://www.nasa.gov/redplanet/angrybirds.html#.VCCNhvldWSp

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