Going with the Flocabulary

Posted by Alyx Kellington On April - 21 - 2011

Many of us know that “Three is a Magic Number” and can answer the query, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?”

Schoolhouse Rock!, the animated musical educational films that aired before and after Saturday morning cartoons from 1973 to 1985 (for me, it must have been the debut season…) taught me how to count, remember my grammar, and introduced me to politics:

I’m just a bill.
Yes, I’m only a bill.
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.

Many of those songs are deeply ingrained in my memory bank and come flying out at the darnedest times.

They are instant, whimsical visits to my past that serve a purpose: I had fun learning something I needed to know. And almost 40 years later, I can still remember it.  

As Director of Arts and Cultural Education for the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, I don’t spend a lot of time in the classroom and therefore, am not always up on the current tools of the trade.

I was thrilled to learn about a resource called “Flocabulary” and know that students today are still singing their way through lessons.

This past year the Cultural Council funded a program called Building Learning Communities through Arts and Culture, which matches a cultural organization, a teaching artist of any discipline and a sixth grade social studies teacher from a Title 1 public school.

Resource Depot, a cultural organization that collects reusable materials from local businesses and donates those items to educators, teamed up with teaching artist Jennifer O’Brien, and social studies teacher Todd LaVogue to teach social studies through the arts.

Challenged with making Mesopotamia relevant to his students and still required to teach the vocabulary and concepts of cuneiform, ziggurat, and Hammurabi and the Sumerians, LaVogue had to find a way to reach the kids and get them engaged.

He looked beyond the tagging, throwing signs, and rap songs in his classroom and thanks to “Flocabulary,” united the symbols and music with a project on the Fertile Crescent.

You can see their results on YouTube.

Both Schoolhouse Rock! and “Flocabulary” came about in similar ways: making the connection between core curriculum and music. Sounds like arts integration to me!

The idea for “Flocabulary” first came to founder/lyricist Blake Harrison in high school. While he struggled to memorize facts for tests, he wondered why it was so easy to remember lines to his favorite rap songs.

Blake realized that if a rapper released an album that defined SAT vocabulary words, students would have a fun and effective way to prepare for the SAT.

Blake met Alex Rappaport, a talented musician and producer; within a month, the duo had a demo recorded, which they sent around to various educational publishers.

By April 2005, they had completed their first full-length album, featuring 12 songs that define 500 SAT vocabulary words. By the fall of 2005, “Flocabulary” had appeared in the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Fitness Magazine, and on MTV News.

Soon after, Alex and Blake relocated to New York City and began a school tour, performing in schools (grades 3-12) up and down the East Coast, bringing hip hop to the classroom.

Today, “Flocabulary” programs are being used in more than 12,000 schools and Flocabulary.com is visited by more than one million people each year.

I’m not sure if it’s as catchy as “Conjunction Junction” but I’m willing to bet those sixth graders will remember a little more about Mesopotamia for years to come.

I’m Hammurabi; you can call me popi.
laid a strict code ‘cause your laws are sloppy.
Hammurabi’s code matches two for two,
poke an eye out and get yours poked out too.

One Response to “Going with the Flocabulary”

  1. stephan allison says:

    Regarding the early works (Conjunction Junction, etc.), many thanks to Bob Dorough, still putting out great public performances of jazz and his Schoolhouse Rocks songs!

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Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.