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Edmund Adjapong is using hip-hop to engage teens in science
Growing up in the Bronx, Edmund Adjapong (M.A. ’14) tended the caterpillars in his school’s Metamorphosis Lab and watched them become butterflies. He devised an experiment for a sixth grade science project, collected data and put it all together on a trifold display board.
Then the teacher wouldn’t allow him to present the project at the science fair because it lacked a control.
“At that moment,” Adjapong recalls, “I lost my love of science.”
Luckily Adjapong attended Marie Curie High School for Medicine, Nursing and Health Professions, where Christopher Emdin was his Conceptual Physics teacher during freshman year.
“I was surprised to have a teacher who looked and talked like me and who enjoyed hip hop as much as I did,” says Adjapong, who is African American. Emdin spoke knowledgably about the music and used elements of the hip-hop lifestyle to make science engaging and fun. “Every student –including myself – felt a familiar connection to the science content and leaned into the instruction. It reignited my passion for science.”
Adjapong studied biochemistry and stayed in touch with Emdin, who by then had joined the faculty at Teachers College. Originally Adjapong planned to be a pharmacist, but soon he had a new goal: to be a teacher. “I wanted urban students to fall in love with science the same way I did,” he says. “Because science content can be learned at any time, but the passion for that content can be lost easily.”
Accepted by every graduate school he applied to, Adjapong says TC, which boasted an urban science education program led by Emdin, “was everything I wanted – but it would have been a financial struggle.”
Fortunately in 2013, as the College was launching its $300 million campaign, Tim Greeman, a former New York City teacher, created the Peter Greeman Scholarships in memory of his father. The scholarships support qualified students who commit to teach in low-income, high-need schools for at least two years. Edmund Adjapong became TC’s first Peter Greeman Scholar.
In May, Adjapong received his master’s in Science Education and is now pursuing another master’s in Curriculum & Teaching at TC – with ultimate plans to earn a doctorate. He currently teaches sixth-grade science at Pelham Gardens Middle School in the Bronx, where, like his old mentor, he uses rap and hip hop to meet students on their own cultural turf. He currently is conducting research on Science Genius, a competition created by Emdin and hip-hop icon GZA in which students at New York City high schools compose poetically sophisticated and scientifically rigorous raps. Thus far he finds that when the program comes into schools, attendance, test scores and concept learning all shoot up.
“Faces light up, and students are laughing – all while engaging the content,” he says. “That’s beautiful, man.”