Maybe they’re not future hip hop superstars but sophomores in Bob Wessling’s biology class at Oakdale High School found their inner musicians and made biology rap songs about DNA and RNA.
Wessling’s goal is to get his students to engage in class in a different way. He thought the project would provide the opportunity for his students to learn the material differently and that they would buy into it because it allows them to be themselves.
“The state standards are still being covered,” Wessling said, “but this is another pathway to reach students who aren’t into bookwork or lecture.”
He reported that he started the assignment last year after a student-teacher brought the assignment to him, adding that he has given similar assignments in different units in the past with good success but hadn’t done it with the DNA/RNA unit.
The requirements were that the song could be any type of music, not just rap, it would be two to five minutes in length and be appropriate. It also had to encompass the information in the DNA/RNA chapter that explained the structure, meaning, and how DNA and RNA were put together to form the double helix – the double-stranded structure formed by the molecules of nucleic acids. Wessling advised the students to pick a song and replace the lyrics with the DNA information.
“The feedback I got, they were surprised at how much they actually knew afterward,” he said.
Wessling added that when he first used this assignment, the students’ test scores were higher. He believes it’s because they had to know the material in order to get it across in the song.
“It did make a difference (on the test) because I’m not a big studier,” acknowledged sophomore Jaidyn Sheetz. “(But) when I put it to a beat, it made me understand a lot more of it.”
Wessling said the project went better than he expected. He said that initially, some of the students didn’t want to do it but then they finished the project and wanted to watch their videos over and over and even posted some on YouTube. He added that some of his students are very quiet in class, but this project allowed them to express themselves. It gave them a chance to shine. Others told him that they had a good time doing the project and made new friends.
“I am shocked, in a good way, about how much talent there is hidden within our Oakdale High students,” Wessling said. “…Hopefully if I can reach a couple more students and get them interested in Biology through the use of music or dance, all the better.”
Sheetz said it took about three hours to write the lyrics. He had his biology book and looked up words in the glossary to see what rhymed.
“I had the headphones on and listened how the beat went. Then I tried to fill in with biology terms,” he said. “…Because I wrote the lyrics, I definitely learned a lot more. I’d read definitions from the vocab and put it in the rap.”
Later, his fellow group members, Hondo Arpoika and Spencer Thomas, joined him and added more lyrics. There were three parts to their song, with Sheetz and Thomas each rapping a few verses and Arpoika doing the beginning and end parts. They also used “Auto-Tune” with Arpoika to modify his voice.
The “recording session” took about two hours and Sheetz’ dad helped with the editing. Then the students added biology pictures such as DNA strands and the double helix to complete their rap video. Altogether, Sheetz said they worked on the project for about seven hours and produced a video that was approximately two minutes and 30 seconds in length.
When asked if he thought he might use similar techniques of turning test material into a song as a study tool in the future, Sheetz said it was a possibility.
“I would use it if ever I felt like I need it,” he said. “I’d put a term in and go with the beat.”