HILLSBOROUGH, Calif. —On Tuesday, February 11, a group of students at The Nueva School watched as their first music video “That’s Metal” went live. At first listen, the video, which they wrote, produced, and starred in, sounds like a high quality rendition of the popular Sage the Gemini song “Gas Pedal.”

If you watch closely, though, you realize this isn’t a typical hip-hop video remake. This is a classroom coming to life in a new way, and these Nueva students are at the front of the class, teaching the world about complex, scientific methodologies through rap music. (Please click here to watch the video)


On Tuesday, February 11, a group of students at The Nueva School watched as their first music video “That’s Metal” went live. At first listen, the video, which they wrote, produced, and starred in, sounds like a high quality rendition of the popular Sage the Gemini song “Gas Pedal.”

If you watch closely, though, you realize this isn’t a typical hip-hop video remake. This is a classroom coming to life in a new sciencerapvideoway, and these Nueva students are at the front of the class, teaching the world about complex, scientific methodologies through rap music. (Please click here to watch the video)

“I hope that students will learn a lot of science content from watching this video. The modern teenager learns a lot through song or rap. Music is a teenage essential in this day and age, and this video will be a great way to teach science,” said Nueva student Lucy B. “I also hope that any student who thinks that science is boring learns that this doesn’t always have to be the case. I hope that it will spark interest in someone who is not so fond of science.”

Lucy was one of a dozen students in Tom McFadden’s Science Rap Academy, which was offered as an elective course during first semester. Each Friday for about seven weeks, the students would come together to transfer their knowledge and love for science into the hip-hop video production.  They researched themes, decided on parodies for various songs, wrote lyrics, and facilitated with the actual production and editing by video production house 3MotionMontage.

That, of course, was one part and only followed the extensive research students had to do into the science of metal. They also had to perfect their rapping and rhyming skills, record the lyrics, decide which instruments to use to replicate the music, and then record the track itself, all of which was done in house and in conjunction with Nueva’s talented music teacher Jim Muzenrider and his friend Michael Cross. Jim also provided the steel drum music, which is a quintessential part of the Nueva community.

It was design thinking, social-emotional learning, and gifted education at its finest and all rolled up into one incredibly exciting project with students at the helm.

“After we decided to create a parody for 'Gas Pedal,' we had to learn and research about metals ourselves. We brainstormed the properties of metals (e.g. malleable and ductile) and learned about concepts such as the electron sea model,” explained Erica T., also a student in the Academy. “Once we had a firm grasp on the subject, five members, including our teacher Tom McFadden, wrote the lyrics for the song, while the rest of the Academy focused on recording the music and sound effects.”

The idea to create a rap video as a learning tool about science is something that in many ways Tom has perfected. Prior to joining Nueva this year, Tom was in New Zealand as a Fulbright scholar where he studied science communication at the University of Otago. It was here that he started researching whether content-based music can make science lessons more relevant, emotional, and memorable.

Tom concluded that by harnessing the power of music, students are exposed to a multitude of educational ideals, of which science is only one. They learn to work collaboratively, the importance of project management, the power of performance, the complexities of film, and the art behind music production.

“There was deep sense of learning always present amongst the students throughout the entire process of producing this video. They were not only building confidence in their creative process but also confidence in their knowledge of science itself,” Tom said. “There also is certainly an additional creative benefit about integrating this culture of music into a classroom in a truly educational and transformative way.”

However, it wasn’t just about what the students themselves learned. Through the music video, they are able to share their knowledge with classrooms throughout the world and show many just how fun it can be to learn about science. For many in the Academy, this was one of the most exciting parts.

“I hope that anyone watching this video understands that science can be an incredibly fun, interesting, and engaging topic. Not only that, but I hope that people recognize that anyone can produce something creative if they put in the time and effort. Who knows? Maybe it will be an opportunity for them to learn about a new passion that they love just as much as I have,” said Erica T.

“I definitely learned a lot while creating this project. This was a great way for me to retain information about science,” added Lucy B. “A great quote that I always hear teenagers throwing around is, ‘Here’s to the kids who memorize song lyrics faster than vocabulary words.’ That quote is very relevant to this project. While memorizing the rap lyrics, one is also memorizing great information. I learned lots of new science vocabulary that will most likely stick with me forever.”


After more than five months of work that originated long before the school year even began, students in Nueva’s grade 7 are putting the finishing touches on a project that represents the culmination of many years of design thinking experiences.

“The Wind Turbine Project is one part of the seventh grade Integration course. We are delighted to have the resources to be windturbineable to offer a continuous path of courses from grade 4 through grade 9 for all students that teach the principles of design thinking, engineering, service, making, programming, and robotics,” explained Kim Saxe, director of the I-Lab.

In the coming weeks, students will install wind turbines between the loop and the Library and around the fence at the Upper Field on the Hillsborough campus. To take their wind turbines from idea to reality, students used the design thinking process to unpack the human needs, research, explore, and learn the necessary technical skills. They then brainstormed, iterated, and prototyped their wind turbines, all while collaborating in teams of eight towards a common goal.

The project also highlights the need for sustainable design, which is a near and dear component of Nueva’s mission. 

“To see their progress over this five month period has been so exciting,” said Michelle Grau, one of the instructors in the I–Lab. “They first learned how motors can be used as generators, experimented with gears and drive trains, and did a lot of research into the different parts of a wind turbine. After doing some small prototypes, they began design and construction of the large wind turbines you will soon see!”

The Wind Turbine Project was part of the integrated curriculum that the seventh grade teaching team created around a book students read over the summer by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer titled The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. The book tells the true story of William’s life in Malawi that was deeply impacted by the famine. By teaching himself how to build a wind turbine, he was able to supply electricity to his family and greater hope for their future.

Different social and technical elements were pulled from the book to guide students through this design thinking-driven, trans-disciplinary lesson, explained Steve Westwood, also an instructor in the I-Lab. On the technical side, students created diagrams of how wind turbines work and then delved into some of the scientific concepts such as electromagnetic induction or how a generator works. They also needed to research and were encouraged to become mini-experts in different aspects of small-scale wind turbine construction. 

Then, once it came time to build, students had to dig even deeper—learning the skills they needed to solve their problems, whether that was trigonometry for tripod bases, ratios to calculate possible rotor speeds for a given wind speed, or CAD to design new gears.

“On top of the interdisciplinary learning, we also wanted students to come out with a sense for how things get built at a larger scale.  We wanted them handling lumber, using bearings, and feeling empowered to use saws and other mechanical tools,” Steve said.

The I-Lab served as an invaluable resource, with students having access to all types of materials including hand saws, scroll saws, a band saw, drill press, and other tools that were used both in prototyping and final build. They also used the laser cutter and 3D printers to make gears and other essential components to the turbines. 

“We gave them a total height limit of 10 feet, and they were given a choice of three different motors. The goal was to keep the budget low, so while each team did not have a set budget, they had to justify the purchase of parts,” Michelle explained. “Other than that, they had a lot of freedom in the design, which is evident from how different each wind turbine is!”

Students had a target of generating five volts of electricity if given sufficient wind speeds. This goal was based on the actual wind speeds typically present on Nueva’s campus, which tend to be quite low.  So though these may not be able to provide real electricity to the campus, they certainly serve as a proof-of-concept and represent the incredibly innovative work of these seventh grade students.

On January 30, renowned classical performer and alumna Meta Weiss (class of 2001) performed in concert with her string duo, metaweissduoW, enthralling the audience with compositions by Kodaly, Milhaud, Bach, and Fritz Kreisler. Alumni and alumni parents were in attendance and enjoyed reconnecting. DuoW also debuted their new music video "Stars and Stripes," which was filmed, directed, and edited by alumnus Max Strebel, (class of 2004) and was shot at Nueva on the GCC stage and in and around the Mansion. Meta recently completed her masters at Julliard and is continuing her studies in their doctoral program.

Throughout the school year, grade 3 students have been hard at work utilizing their design thinking and SEL skills to study an selfairorganization, cause, or group. These efforts were shared with the community on January 22, as students presented powerful information and solutions about these world wide dilemmas.

Held in the Nueva Library, the Service Learning Fair covered a broad range of topics chosen from student interest. They included the demise of the bald eagle population, the need for girls' education in Afghanistan, pediatric cancer, environmental concerns such as the ozone layer and composting, animal rights (PETA), the endangerment of snow leopards, disaster relief, invasive plant species and their effects on insects, helping the elderly, and homelessness. 

Guests could visit each student's booth and learn what they discovered in their research and real world solutions that could positively impact these important causes.



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