About Tom McFadden

I was born in Sacramento, California in 1986. At McClatchy High School I would exit my AP Biology classroom into hallways full of kids banging out pen beats on lockers, free-styling into voice recorders, and selling their mixtapes in the quad. The kids we looked up to looked up to Wu-Tang.

My love of biology and hip hop grew independently while I was at Stanford University. My three freshmen roommates and I were put together because we had all put Talib Kweli down as our favorite music. And as as my hip hop library expanded, I fell in love with the study of life, majoring in Human Biology.

I have never, to this day, taken myself seriously as a rapper (though almost every male I know from Sacramento has produced a rap album). But in the summer of 2008, Derrick Davis asked me to perform a rap about milkshakes for a talent show at Stanford Sierra Camp. I loved parodying songs and I loved performing live. Soon we turned the hyphy anthem “Tell me when to go” into a song about washing dishes with the Hobart machine – “Tell me when to throw.”

When I started working as a Course Associate for Stanford Human Biology in 2008, the parodies continued. Songs about rims (on cars) got flipped into songs about RIMs (reproductive isolating mechanisms). The students were shocked and excited, and the musical production values increased as I brought in more collaborators.

The past three years have taken me to East Palo Alto (California), Ixil (Mexico), and Dunedin (New Zealand) to help encourage young students to explore science through music. We’ve made songs about healthy eating, the water cycle, fire flies, and more.

Thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, I was able to get a Master of Science Communication  from the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago in New Zealand. For my thesis I created the “Fossil Rock Anthem” music video and conducted education research into its impacts on learning and motivation.

I now live in the Bay Area, where I’ve been making science history rap music videos with middle schoolers (See “Brahe’s Battles“). I hope that teachers and students across the world will utilize, remix, and reinvent these videos while I teach 8th grade biology at The Nueva School next year.

-Tom McFadden

38 Responses to About Tom McFadden

  1. Tom,

    My name’s Amanda Plasencia and I graduated from CB in ’05. I had brunch with Pat Fitzgerald earlier today and we got to talking about you and the work you’ve been doing to popularize science. I currently teach 7th grade life science to urban kids in Chelsea, MA and when I heard of what you were doing, I knew I had to get in touch with you. I teach 7 units, ranging from cellular function and structure to the interaction of organisms in ecosystems. I’d love to get in touch with you about making something happen for my students this upcoming year. I’m sure you’re busy but if you have time to drop me a line, email me at anplasencia@gmail.com.

  2. MAD-awesome !! Scientifically accurate dope beats appeal to me. (but I suspect I’m a limited demographic)

  3. Ernestine says:

    Well, you made it to a general biology classroom in Lawton, Oklahoma today…Loved the idea and showed the vid to my son and friends after school who are showing the vid to their science teacher tomorrow. Love the concept of what you’re doing. Now, I’m gonna go eat a snack and get to know my ATP!!!!

  4. Hey Tom. LOVE your stuff. I’m with a Bay Area start-up that’s an education, co-creation network, and we produce cool content that’s right up your alley. Hit me up so I can tell you more about it.
    Thanks Tom,
    Joe O’Loughlin

  5. sglisson says:

    Hi Tom…your rap “Blame It on the DNA” was the highlight of my biology class today! (I’m the teacher, BTW) :) I loved it because it encapsulated our entire Chapter 11…everything from DNA structure, to transcription/translation, and mutations! I saw some heads bobbin’ as the kids were reading the lyrics and watching the video (great graphics). Keep up the great work! I subscribed to your blog and plan on checking back periodically. We’re a small, rural school district in southwestern Michigan. I blog as well. http://www.chsbiob.wordpress.com Thanks for making biology relevant AND cool! – Sara Glisson

  6. Caleb B. says:

    Been watching your work now. We actually had it mentioned in an Anatomy lecture @ Otago University.

    Do take a look at what we have done in our spare time over on our website.

    • Cool – are you a Health Sci Student? I may be doing some personal tutoring for some folks in a CELS and an ANAT class, so I should be getting a sense for how you do things here at Otago..

  7. Aaron Pollock says:

    Hi Tom
    I was born and raised in Sacramento. I graduated from Kennedy HS in ’95, and was so disappointed and frustrated by the biology experience I had there, that it motivated me to return and do a better job. I now teach Freshmen Bio, and Human Anatomy and Physiology to juniors and seniors. You are my absolute hero. Your videos have become a big part of my instruction and have inspired me and my students. We have our own videos currently in production. I will be sure to share when completed. I would love to pick your brain or even meet you when you make it back to SacTown.

    • Hey Aaron,

      Great to hear from you. I may not be back in the states until November of this year, but I’d love to talk sooner. Send me an email (tomcfad@gmail.com) and we can skype it up. Can’t wait to see what your classes are coming up with. Hope that CKM v. JFK rivalry is still going strong.

      -Tom

    • Hi Aaron:
      I too am a fan of Tom and his work. My new company KlabLab is currently on a tour of California, working with progressive and innovative teachers like yourself. I would love to schedule a date to have our mobile recording studio bus visit your school and support your creative efforts. For more info, I’m at joe@klablab.com and check us out at http://klablabtour.com.
      Rock on,
      Joe O’Loughlin
      Executive Producer/Tour Manager
      KlabLab, Inc.

  8. Andrea says:

    Hi Tom,
    I’m from a UAE based event company and would like to include you as part of a huge science festival we’re pitching for in early 2014. Could you please send me your contact details so I can send you more info.

    Thanks
    Andrea

  9. Pingback: Fossil Rock Anthem « earthdharma.org

  10. Angie says:

    Hi Tom, do you allow the use of your videos for educational purposes? I am doing a presentation for a Water Academy at a High School here in Florida and think it would be great to share your “1 Bottle at a Time – Save the Fishes” video to help inspire the kids. Thanks!

  11. Jackie says:

    Hi Tom!
    I’m a current Humbio Student, taking the core, who just wanted to her appreciation for how express how awesome your A side related rap videos are! They are always incorporated into our PSETs by our CAs, who I’m sure were once your students. Thanks for simplifying some of these complex mechanisms for us, with some of the most hilariously amazing rhymes. You should consider coming back to Stanford to give a “Life after the Core” talk for students who are nervous about the future *coughmyselfincludedcough* but want to take their Humbio degree and apply it to something that they love!

  12. Aaron Tinker says:

    A friend just shared One Bottle at a Time (Save the Fishes) with me, and I’m really just blown away. I just zipped an email to Halo at REAL, and wanted to extend an invite to you too, if you’re available. We’re having Earth Day on the Bay, in Redwood City, on April 20 and would love for you to be a part of it! We could show some of your videos, or perform live, or both. We usually draw 1500 people or so, and the audience is mostly parents with small kids. I think your productions would be hugely inspiring to both the parents & kids who are coming!

    Let me know! If you can’t, maybe next year – It’ll be a good one for you I’m sure!

    Best fishes, Aaron
    Earth Day on the Bay coordinator
    http://www.sfbaymsi.org/earthday.html to learn more.

    • Hi Aaron. Thanks for the kind words! I’ll be out of town that weekend, but good call to get in touch with Halo. Hopefully some of the students can make it and perform!

  13. Hey Tom

    Just stumbled across your website when I googled “hip hop lyrics about science,” your blog is a gold mine! I’m a Science teacher in the UK, working on making a series of revision videos for high school students and trying to spice them up with soundtracks. Looks ike you’re doing good work, and I’m definitely inspired to copycat your idea of turning science topics into hip-hop projects and look for UK-based projects of a similar nature… or start my own if they don’t exist!.

    Congratulations on reaching your kickstart target by the way. Hope the project is a massive success, will follow progress with interest…

    And lastly, I couldn’t find any reference to this Blackaliscious track on your site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffrdpBACctg If you’ve not heard it before, enjoy!

    Cheers

  14. Gabe Germanow says:

    Hey Tom,

    Huge fan of what you’re doing. I work in Outdoor Ed, and also believe fervently in the power of music to teach science. I’ve used your Fossil Rock a bunch in the past, and along with my co-workers I’ve also re-written a few pop songs with science lyrics. Rhianna’s ‘We Found Love’ to be about Abiotic Factors, Mackelmore’s ‘Thrift Shop’ to be about Photosynthesis, and I’m working on Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory to be about Decomposers.

    Holler if you’re interested, I’d love to share what I’ve got via email. Possible fodder for future videos?

    Cheers,

    -Gabe
    gabriel.germanow@gmail.com

  15. Gladys says:

    Just wanted to take a minute from my studies (I’m a health sci grad, going back for some mo school) and studying biochem when I stumbled upon your Oxidize it or Love It video. I think what you’re doing is so fantastic, funny and fun – I’ve watched it a few times now, amaaazing! I made a music video parody once for a student council campaign and I had so much fun doing it but I know for a few minutes how much time and effort goes into it, I am glad to see you are using your love for science, music and hip hop to educate others and make learning fun. There’s bright things ahead for you and many other students who will benefit from your work/projects. :) Peace, Yeung-Geezy

  16. Pingback: Brains and Beakers: Raps on Science – News Watch

  17. Pingback: Youth Radio — Youth Media International: Brains and Beakers: Rapping On Science | Living Biology

  18. Lani Rounds says:

    I was fortunate to get to see you perform at the Confratute Variety Show – I have now shared your Fossil Rock vid with everyone I know. You are amazing! Your excitement, energy and enthusiasm help me remember why I love this job (education) so much!

  19. Hi, Tom! I’m an old pediatrician-turned-community-college-teacher, and I found your “Oxidate It or Love It” through an npr blog awhile back. I show it in every Anatomy & Physiology I class, and I will be posting a blog about it tomorrow at http://www.pleasureinlearning.com. Thanks for a wonderful gift to my students and to me.

  20. Tom, I love your DNA discovery and Pluto rap videos with kids. Would like to talk to you. http://www.melissa-stewart.com Twitter: @mstewartscience

  21. I am so in awe of these awesomely educational rap videos! Nerdy fangirls must throw their labcoats at you all the time, but add me to the list!!

  22. Pingback: Did you see Franklin’s Story? | Science

  23. Aerin Benavides says:

    Hi Tom! Great videos of salamanders up at Tremont in the Smoky Mountains! I am working on my dissertation looking at best practices in teaching outdoors and I would love to know more about all you are doing, and how this is one way to bring the natural world of science into the classroom! Let me know if I may interview you for my dissertation! Thanks!
    Aerin

  24. Nancy says:

    Hi Tom! I am working to coordinate an event in South Hayward called Science in the Park, and we’ d love to work with you and have you come out to this event, if you are not too busy. Please send me an email if you’re interested!

  25. Kathy Meyer says:

    Are you interested in traveling to work with students and teachers. We represent a network of 40+ K-12 schools in central Ohio that furthers the use of service-learning/project based learning as an insructional strategy. We are hosting around 250-300 teachers and students for a leadership summit at the end of April. I’m thinking that it might be cool to have you work with students to produce and perform a rap or several that combines science and service. You can visit our website at http://www.partnershipsmakeadifference.org to see what we are up to. Contact me at my email if you are interested.

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