Highland Park teachers rap ‘scientific’
Updated: February 25, 2013 3:46PM
HIGHLAND PARK — Fourth graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Highland Park will encounter some ISAT questions this spring about the scientific method of inquiry, and when they do, the words of some popular rappers may come to mind.
Not the lyrics of Dr. Dre or 50-Cent, but those of “Professors DanEllie Rubillis,” better known as their own teachers Ellie Rubenstein and Dana Gillis.
The teachers created a highly informative rap video now playing to rave reviews on YouTube. The catchy video reinforces what makes a science experiment valid: Keeping all things the same with the exception of one changing variable.
“You start with a hypothesis. Huh? What’s that? you say. It’s just an educated guess. It goes this way.”
Rubenstein and Gillis were searching YouTube for a fun and memorable way to teach the sequence of math operations when they caught the rap video bug.
“We saw some raps out there. They were cute, but we just didn’t feel like they were produced well enough to be meaningful,” said Rubenstein. “We thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, we could have so much fun doing this with our kids’.” Rubenstein wrote the lyrics and Gillis created the sound track using Garage Band, an Apple music application.
As things started to come together, the teachers were soon working on the project every free moment, texting one another late at night and working weekends as well as before and after school.
“It really started to take on a life of its own because we could see it jumping off the page,” said Rubenstein.
All 47 pupils in their two classes participated as a chorus and some students rap puzzling questions, like “Can a plant grow without light?,” as an example of a hypothesis. The project became an incentive for students to show they grasped the scientific method of experimentation.
“Now that we have produced it, the kids all know every lyric and have the scientific method down,” said Rubenstein, joking that “Our work is done for ISAT,” the state’s standardized test that includes a science component in fourth grade. “We don’t need to teach the scientific method.”
Both teachers have strong musical backgrounds. Rubenstein’s father was a composer and she spent many hours in a recording studio as a child and continues to play the piano.
Gillis, who attended Lincoln School as a child, is a folk-rock singer who performs at venues in the Highland Park area on weekends under the name Dana Lawrence. She also composes children’s songs and is one of the technology leaders at Lincoln School.
“The video is a prime case in point that technology enhances everything and there is no limit to what you can do,” she said.