November 12, 2014

Fulbright Alum Teaches Science with 21st Century Tools


Tom McFadden engages students with hip hop science lessons during his Fulbright program in New Zealand. Tom McFadden engages students with hip hop science lessons during his Fulbright program in New Zealand Photo Credit, The Fulbright Program
Trying to motivate young students to study biology can be a difficult task, but Fulbright alumnus Tom McFadden takes an innovative approach, incorporating videos, competitions, and even hip-hop music to help his students learn.
Tom was inspired to use these teaching methods while pursuing his masters in science communication at the University of Otago in New Zealand. He understood that the way to get students interested and involved in science is to make it more fun and interactive. For his thesis, he created the “Fossil Rock Anthem,” a music video that parodies the popular song “Party Rock Anthem.”  
“My time in New Zealand changed the trajectory of my career,” Tom says of his experience. “I tell people back home that I wound up getting a ‘masters in science rapping,’ which is a testament to the freedom and exploration I did during my Fulbright.”
Tom was very active while on his Fulbright to New Zealand in 2011 and 2012. He toured the country, promoting a competition called New Zealand’s Science Idol. He performed at 22 schools, in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, and reached approximately 4,000 students. It was hard work, but Tom enjoyed every minute of the experience.  
“I still get emotional thinking about my tour, from students performing their school Waiata after one of my shows, to getting to rap about New Zealand’s diversity over a ukulele band in the Parliament building! The grand Science Idol prizewinner – Covalent Love – is a chemistry music video hit that I continue to use in my own middle school science classroom.” 
Tom’s work did not stop once he returned home. He has since hosted a webinar for the State Department, entitled “Digital Storytelling”, a perfect way to share the knowledge he gained while on his Fulbright exchange. He has also started a new project to integrate art, history, science and music video production to teach students in low-income Bay Area schools in California. Called “Brahe’s Battles,” the students involved have reported an increasing interest in science, and improved communication of complex ideas. The videos have been featured on NPR, Scientific American, and Buzzfeed.