Learning: Hip Hop Fundamentals can teach academics through dance. *Photo by Antoine Hunt
Learning: Hip Hop Fundamentals can teach academics through dance. *Photo by Antoine Hunt

What can a form of street dance teach us about education?

Two B-boys and a teacher twisted learning on its head — quite literally — at the TEDx conference at the weekend.

Breakdancers Steve ‘Believe’ Lunger and Mark ‘Metal’ Wong, plus Aaron ‘Professor Peabody’ Troisi, travelled from Philadelphia, where they work in elementary schools.

Through the creative energy of breakdancing, their non-profit organization Hip Hop Fundamentals teaches students complex theories in an accessible way.

‘Metal’, who is Bermudian, said: “I love Bermuda, I was born and raised here, and went to school for most of my life here.”

But he said he felt disconnected in class. “The teacher would be at the front of the classroom writing on the blackboard. Over the years, I got really bored…

“It wasn’t until I found hip-hop that I discovered a way to find out who I am. Hip-hop gave me a voice.”

Metal said: “We have found that hip-hop can be a transformative teaching tool.

“It doesn’t really matter what the subject is; we have taught physics to the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

“It’s not what you teach, but how you teach it.

“Perhaps Einstein said it best when he said, ‘Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Together with Steve ‘Believe’, he illustrated how education can be more creative, by breakdancing to teach physics.

They illustrated how a liquid turns into a solid, by Steve freestyling and spinning into a ‘freeze’ — stop.

A lesson on gravity — that ‘what goes up must come down’ — was humorously taught by Steve jumping high into the air and falling flat on the ground.

The two dancers also gave us a lesson in quantum entanglement, showing “whatever you do to one particle, happens to the other”, and in E=mc2.

Einstein’s theory of ‘energy is mass multiplied by the speed of light squared’ was explained through dance, with a flashlight as a prop.

‘Professor Peabody’, education director, said: “We have come to understand — and research suggests — that young people learn best when they participate, when content is engaging and personal, and when they are challenged in a supportive community.

“Yet in classrooms all over the world, we don’t see that.”

He said “teachers talking at students” only alienated them.

“It’s a mistake to think of students failing; our schools are failing our students,” he said.

“Imagine if education was more of a conversation.”

Steve said: “Hip-hop transforms lives. This culture, created by young people, is now being used in a small number of institutions as an educational tool.”

In addition to Philadelphia, it is being deployed in other inner-city classrooms in New York City and Washington D.C.