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Nipher Middle School Students Compete in Inaugural “YO! STEAMaster Competition

Since October, seventh-grade students at Nipher Middle School in the Kirkwood School District (KSD) have studied ecology. While ecology is a traditional curriculum component of seventh-grade science, how students demonstrated their learning was very different this year.  Nipher science teachers Curtis O’Dwyer and Beth Adams applied “culturally relevant teaching” to this lesson. Culturally relevant teaching is a teaching practice that encourages students to relate course content to his or her cultural context.

Students not only learned about ecology but applied a deeper level of knowledge of the content by creatively demonstrating their understanding by writing a rap or poem and then performing it in front of peers. Each science class voted on their favorite rap or poem performance. Out of the 200+ seventh-grade sciences students, 12 nominated groups were selected to perform at the inaugural “YO! STEAMaster Competition.” As an acronym, STEAMaster has a dual meaning. STEAM represents science, technology, engineering, art and math, while Master represents the emphasis for students to demonstrate mastery of STEAM content.

“The STEAMaster Competition was an opportunity for students to demonstrate their brilliance as science students by communicating their understanding of ecology in the form of a rap or poem,” said O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer was inspired by the HipHop ED Science Genius Program which engages youth in the sciences by valuing their culture and voice. “The incorporation of hip-hop into the classroom proves to be an effective tool to develop students’ science capabilities,” said O’Dwyer. He also credited the on-going work in KSD with educational equity to bring this initiative to the Nipher classroom. “Creatively connecting in the classroom is backed up by best practice research, and the KSD recognized a need for greater diversity in the classroom. This lesson was a perfect opportunity to apply diversity in the field of science, so students can see themselves as scientists and combat against stereotypes limiting access to and growth in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.”

Each group performed their song on various ecology topics including climate change, habitats, and water to a panel of judges including Dr. Angelina Sylvain, the Director of Enrollment and Assessment in the Graduate School at Washington University; Brock Seals, a local musician and visual artist; and Willie Dyson, regional sales director for Aflac and recording artist.

Before the judges announced the runner up and the winner, the audience enjoyed a performance by the Nipher Step Team. Second place was awarded to Molly Brown and Zoe Nauman for their rap about Ecological Symbiotic Relationships called “Learn Ecology.” First place was awarded to Sasha Boyd, for her rap about water titled, “Water.” For winning the competition, Sasha earned her science class a pizza party, and she won a $20 gift certificate to Downtown Kirkwood.