Quick, give me a rhyme for mitochondria.
Never thought about it before? Neither had Ed Piva, until he started teaching Grade 7/8 science at Linwood Public School.
While teaching the unit on life systems, Piva saw that some of his students were struggling with the complicated vocabulary. To help them remember the material, he wrote a rap that worked the terms into the lyrics.
Piva knew he was on to something when some former students admitted they’d recited the verses during their high school exams. Three years later, he’s written a mittful of songs and with the help of Kitchener rap artist Shawn McDaid, has released an album called SciencEvolution.
“I’m really thrilled that after all the work that’s been done … finally there’s something tangible here,” Piva said.
Putting the album together allowed Piva to combine two of his longstanding passions: science and rap. He grew up listening to artists like Run DMC, Fat Boys, Maestro Fresh Wes and Public Enemy. At the same time, his childhood home on the Niagara escarpment was the perfect place for a boy to collect frogs and go fishing, fostering a lifelong interest in the environment.
Piva graduated from Environmental Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo, and last year he was named environmental teacher of the year by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario for his work at Linwood P.S.
Despite his love for the music, Piva frankly admits that he can’t rap. That’s where McDaid came in; the two were introduced by a mutual friend who thought they would work well together. McDaid brought a professional production quality to the songs, setting Piva’s lyrics to beats, adding vocals and mixing the recording.
McDaid has been into rap music since he was five, and starting writing and rapping his own songs when he was about 12. Under the name Fraction, he records and produces music in his home studio.
“My goal making this was to make it sound like an actual album, but with an educational factor,” McDaid said.
McDaid noted that the project was challenging on a few levels. Usually he starts with a beat and adds lyrics, while this required him to come up with beats to match Piva’s rhymes. It’s also uncommon for a rapper to spit someone else’s lyrics, because the music is drawn from an artist’s personal experiences. And he had certainly never rapped about endoplasmic reticulum before.
Piva has a number of David Martin and Old Colony Mennonites in his classroom, and for many of them, his songs were their introduction to rap music. They also had the chance to try recording; McDaid brought in some equipment and each student wrote and recorded a four-bar verse about farm safety. Piva is toying with the idea of having the kids record a hook for one of his future albums.
And there will be more albums. McDaid is in the process of recording a sophomore album about ecosystems, structure and pure substances, and Piva has already written lyrics for a history album.
The next challenge is to market the CD to educators. Piva has sent out sample copies with teachers he knows – including his wife Lindsay – and he’s trying to get school boards interested. The album will also be available online, making it more affordable for students and their parents who want to be able to listen to it at home.
For more information on the album or to check out the song lyrics, see www.sciencevolution.com.