Fun Equals Physics Times Hip-Hop Beat

Chase Benz, left, Candi Hall, center, and Jason Nash perform in an award-winning show that uses hip-hop music to get kids interested in science.
Chase Benz, left, Candi Hall, center, and Jason Nash perform in an award-winning show that uses hip-hop music to get kids interested in science. (Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Jillian S. Jarrett
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006

Spinning disco lights. Lyrical rhymes spit over a pounding bass. Baggy jeans and sneakers. Hips swinging and rumps shaking. Sound like a popular hip-hop concert?

Not quite.

For nearly 2,000 students from 23 area middle schools, the place to be last week was Howard University's Burr Gymnasium for FMA Live!, an award-winning show that uses hip-hop music, dancing and gimmicks to illustrate the laws of science and inspire students to pursue scientific careers.

"Force! Mass! Acceleration!" yelled the show's stars, Chase Benz, Candi Hall and Jason Nash, dressed in casual hip-hop style. They led the audience in the chant, which represents the group's name and the elements of Sir Isaac Newton's second law of motion: Force equals mass times acceleration.

The crowd roared and danced to the beat. If you think learning about science is boring, you've never had a class like this.

FMA Live! uses professional actors, original songs, music videos and interactive science demonstrations to teach Newton's three laws of motion and the universal law of gravity.

The program, developed by Honeywell International and NASA, was spurred by studies showing that job growth in science, math and engineering will far outpace that of other fields over the next decade, at the same time that the number of students in those fields declines. A 2004 study by the National Science Board found that half the undergraduate students who pursued science or engineering degrees did not complete their major.

Dave Cote, Honeywell's chairman and chief executive, said the program targets middle school students because they usually have not settled on careers and are at an age when such a spark can occur.

Cote said he wants to dispel the notion that jobs in math, science, technology and engineering are boring and geeky.

"We must engage our young people in science," he said. "It's a major issue of our time."

The innovative hip-hop show is as engaging as it is educational.

In the opening minutes, students are taught Newton's first law, about inertia: Objects in motion will stay in motion unless an outside force is applied to them. Just how do you teach that to 10- to 14-year-olds? Have two students jump on a trampoline and compete to see who can attach himself higher to a Velcro wall, of course.


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