By Blog Consulting


October 22, 2008

by Melanie West
Integrating culture and life has always been a part of my informal learning work experience. About thirty years ago I worked as a math tutor for a local community science center in Plainfield, New Jersey. That center—conceived by a group of Bell Laboratory scientists and housed in an abandoned rundown candy store—was a bold, grassroots effort that opened up the world of science to urban youth and delivered this knowledge to the students’ own neighborhood.
Bell Labs scientists, including world-renowned physicist, Dr. James E. West, co-founder and board member of Tiz Media Foundation, dedicated their brilliance and time to the center teaching on topics such as the mechanics of go-carts and the physics behind bicycle riding. Many students in that neighborhood survived very rough lives, but the science center was always packed with enthusiastic students who were eager to learn.
In 2003 that science center experience inspired a vision of a multimedia educational program. The program would be a technical showground where enthusiasm for learning math and science would be cultivated in urban students. It would be located in the students’ own neighborhoods. It would be a place where they could be exposed to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) role models who looked like them, using a culture to which they were connected. The vision included a physical space with a recording studio, multimedia workstations, and a performance space that worked in conjunction with a virtual space, resulting in a math and science community rooted in hip-hop culture and made widely available to urban students.
That vision resulted in an organization I helped co-found, Tiz Media Foundation, developing a program called MindRap.
MindRap is a circular learning process consisting of an intensive, interdisciplinary program where math and science concepts are learned and transformed into digital media. High school students articulate specific math and science concepts, such as solving algebraic equations or detailing the fundamentals of the ozone layer, by relating them to their own lives through story-telling, music, poetry, visual arts, and animation. During a cooperative, step-by-step design process facilitated by STEM role models as well as experienced educators, artists, poets, and musicians, the high school students create content for animated multimedia modules. These modules can then be used by the students to teach basic math and science lessons to their peers. Students’ imagination and enthusiasm for hip-hop culture drive the design process and inspire their creativity.
In order for students to really apply their creativity, it is necessary for them to have a clear understanding of the content. The students know that their content will be published, so they tend to think more deeply about these math and science concepts. Thus it is a more potent learning experience than the traditional dry classroom approach. When students acquire this deeper understanding, they can then have fun with the arts integration part of MindRap. These student instructors utilize their creativity to communicate this deeper understanding to their peers.
Adobe products are used to make the student content come alive. Students choose and arrange the music that accompanies their hip-hop lessons. Supportive images are drawn then scanned into Adobe Flash where their content is transformed into hip-hop multimedia modules. The resulting creations are published on a website portal.
Although the initial vision for MindRap contemplated one physical space working in conjunction with a website portal, throughout these initial years Tiz Media Foundation has found that MindRap programs must meet the specific needs of client students and educators. A customized grassroots approach has been necessary in order for the program to be effective.
For example, in 2007 we worked with a Chicago charter school in which a culture of peace was being promoted by the administration after an outburst of student violence. Our goal was to work with students to create a MindRap module based on neuroscience and designed to help promote a culture of peace for incoming freshman. Students studied the basics of neuroscience as it relates to emotions. They learned about the relationship between the amygdala and the frontal cortex–specifically that a human’s ability to reason is diminished when the mind is in an emotional state. Students acquired skills that helped them regain control of their ability to reason when they became upset. Using that information and the MindRap experience, students developed content for a multimedia module to promote a culture of peace. The module was then used during a school assembly for incoming freshman. The process proved rewarding. I remember that a student approached me during the MindRap sessions explaining that he had used the technique for regaining control the night before and it had worked for him.

Fig. 1a. On the left, students performing their rap. On the right, a screen shot from the lesson promoting a culture of peace for incoming freshman. .jpgFig. 1b. On the left, students performing their rap. On the right, a screen shot from the lesson promoting a culture of peace for incoming freshman. .jpg

An informal evaluation was conducted during this project. An excerpt from the evaluation report conducted by Tiz Media Foundation’s educational expert, Barbara Moss, states that

“…the MindRap Workshop promoted the social and emotional skills that students needed to effectively work together to complete a task. Additionally the data suggested that the MindRap activities which required students to think critically and creatively about Science content in order to transfer what was learned into a creative response was effective in promoting academic achievement for underachieving minority students. Finally, the data showed that MindRap is a program that students enjoy.”

In addition to building the website portal for MindRap, we are consistently morphing the MindRap process. The goal is to deploy an effective program based in culturally relevant media that engages urban youth and promotes enthusiasm for learning math and science.
Current Work:

  • Flagway™ multimedia with The Young People’s Project, (YPP) Chicago Illinois. Funded in part by National Science Foundation grants, it is part of Dr. Robert Moses’ Algebra Project. YPP is a math literacy program that recruits, trains, and deploys high school and college math literacy workers to mentor middle and elementary students in math. Tiz Media is working with YPP to create a multimedia module targeting 3rd – 6th graders that includes a story and several games that will be integrated into math literacy workshops. MindRap methodology is used to create the content for this multimedia module and an iterative approach to design driven by student input has been utilized in the development. Students have shown a very positive reaction to the game, and are very enthusiastic about the project.

  • African-American Distributed Multiple Learning Styles System (AADMLSS). Dr. Juan Gilbert of Auburn University and Dr. Stafford Hood of Arizona State University run a project called AADMLSS, an interactive game-like environment that uses culturally relevant cues, gestures, sounds, and lyrics to teach students algebra. AADMLSS City Stroll consists of three individual components; Instruction, Practice, and Assessment. Tiz Media contributes to this project by creating MindRap instruction modules on solving algebraic equations used in the AADMLSS system. Interviews with students at a Chicago public school illustrate that students find AADMLSS engaging and that they are particularly excited about the MindRap modules.
  • The Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences (PIMS). At the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences conference in Vancouver, Canada, TMF conducted an abbreviated MindRap session on the ozone layer. The chorus was created by Tiz Media staff but students who attended the conference created the verses in a brief one hour MindRap session. To view an excerpt from this session please visit: This was an unusual project for us. The Canadian students were not familiar with hip-hop, but embraced the project and enjoyed the process of creating a rap about the ozone layer.
  • North Lawndale College Prep (NLCP) High School: In Chicago, Illinois approximately 30 NLCP students worked in teams to create a MindRap module promoting a culture of peace for incoming freshman. The focus of the module was emotional intelligence and neuroscience. The initial evaluation indicates that this project has been very successful. Students showed great interest in the project and acquired emotional intelligence skills that will help them through their lives. See:
  • Northwestern Institute on Complex Science (NICO), Northwestern University. In the summer of 2008, Tiz Media will work with NICO to sponsor Speech and the Cell Phone, a summer science program for high school students and college science majors. This program will use MindRap workshops to take students on a journey that begins with the talking drums of Africa and ends with speech waves traveling through the cell phone. This program is being funded by the Motorola Foundation. We’re excited about this program and looking forward to writing an article on it when it is completed.