Samstag, 28. Juli 2007

The Classification Rap

This is the Video that Started it All! In 1989 T.H. Culhane, a brand new science teacher at Crenshaw High School in South Central L.A., joined forces with video instructor Phil Kuretski and together with their students they created T.H.'s first "Melodic-Mnemonic" -- a rap song that successfully embedded the Linnean system of classification -- Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species -- using rap and melody as the carrier wave for the textbook data that students were expected to memorize. Culhane's "Melodic-Mnemonic" method worked so well that his "at-risk" students were able to successfully compete with "gifted students" and test scores went up on biology exams. For the next near decade Culhane expanded the subject matter he and his students covered using the Melodic-Mnemonic approach. Recently, Culhane has been using the approach with the U.S. State Department's Cultural Affairs program, teaching science workshops in schools in Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Morrocco, Israel and Palestine.

More History of Melodic-Mnemonics: At Harvard between 1980 and 1985, T.H. Culhane had the honor of taking classes on Evolutionary Biology with Professors Stephen Jay Gould and E.O. Wilson and Chemistry with Dudley Herschbach. Each of these legendary luminaries inspired in T.H. a love of the natural sciences and they taught him that science could be taught in an infectiously fun and engaging manner. E.O Wilson captured the attention of his students with an exciting narrative storytelling style that made each class an eye-opening adventure. Dudley Herschbach did explosive hands on experiments, told jokes and played Tom Lehrer's Chemistry song. Stephen Jay Gould performed songs about science that he sang with his barbershop quartet. To T.H. the message was clear: A Harvard Education in the sciences integrates all of the senses, all the modalities and engages every part of our brain and its multiple intelligences.

For his Senior Thesis with Professor Terry Deacon, T.H. not only videotaped and analyzed the vocalizations of the famous "Hoover, the Talking Seal" at the New England Aquarium, but he wrote a rap song called "A Talking Seal? Get Outta Here" that explained the essence of his thesis and made a music-video (edited by Steve Sessions, and recorded with John Axelrod and Michael Culhane) that was his first "melodic-mnemonic". The music video was shown to Dr. Lou Herman and his dolphin researching staff at the University of Hawaii when T.H. was on tour their with the Harvard Krokodiloes in the summer of 1985; Dr. Herman shared with T.H. the research he was doing on interspecies communication and agreed that music (and other forms of sound patterning) could aid in transcending barriers between foreign minds.

Without getting into the possibilities for using the Melodic-Mnemonic method to connect with "aliens" (although T.H. admits to being a fan of Stephen Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind) T.H. decided to take the pedagogical techniques he had learned and elaborated on at Harvard into the 'Hood, and see if he could use them successfully to communicate his love of science within communities of "illegal aliens" and disenfranchised, alienated youth. He noted that so called "at-risk" youth who couldn't memorize textbook material seemed to have no problem memorizing complicated rap or pop lyrics, and decided that both enthusiasm and the use of rhythm and music as carrier waves for syllabic sounds were the keys to assisting memorization of complex scientific topics.

He picked the topic of Classification for his first Melodic-Mnemonics video because he resented the fact that when he was in high school the only mnemonic devices available for memorizing the sequence "Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species" were even greater abstractions such as "Kooky Purple Carrots Often Farmers Grow Separately". "How on earth" (or any other planet for that matter!), Culhane reasoned, "is it easier to memorize that sequence, and then try and use it as an aid to remember the real sequence?" Culhane decided that any mnemonic that requires the memorization of even more arbitrary information is not a memory aid at all.

What you will see in this video is what every musician has known since Mozart composed Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and every child knows who sings the alphabet song: Music IS the best mnemonic device.

T.H. was aware that this idea had been used before in "SchoolHouse Rock" and Sesame Street -- what hadn't been done, was to apply these methods to high school science in general and to inner city schools in particular. And the biggest missing piece was involvement "of the students, by the students, for the students." Only by doing do we learn, and The Melodic-Mnemonic Method was all about getting the students to think critically, write, create and perform their material, bringing the "boring" text books to life.

Thus, in 1989, at Crenshaw Hight School in South Central Los Angeles, Melodic-Mnemonics was born.

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