Reading, writing and rocking out? KlabLab uses music videos to help get kids excited about learning

Eric Pfeiffer
April 5, 2012

It's no secret that math, science and history are three of the least popular subjects for kids in school. And when students and teachers don't have the passion, enthusiasm or budget to support a well-rounded education, everyone suffers.

Those very challenges are what inspired Joe O'Loughlin and Dave Haberman to create KlabLab, a free program designed to create collaborative in-classroom lessons that use contemporary music videos to help students excel at a wide variety of subjects they might otherwise not be excited about.

"Our mission is to bring creativity back into education in the classroom," O'Loughlin told Yahoo News. "We want to work directly with teachers and students in the education process."

In this first video, watch how KlabLab worked with California students to create an entertaining and modern music video about cellular structure:

Being both musicians and educators themselves, the pair have embarked on a Sound of Knowledge Tour of California schools. They even have their own tour bus, which they are using to engage students and teachers directly.

"I managed to get my own tour bus, which is definitely a bucket-list item for me," Haberman joked in an interview with Yahoo News. "We decked it out, created a mobile recording studio. It's a symbol of the revolution, our flagship."

When KlabLab meets up with students and educators, the program works with them on creating their own music performances that use beats lyrics and melodies reflective of contemporary music the students are downloading from the Internet and listening to on their headphones. Depending on how engaged the students and teachers are able to get in the process, the end result can range from a MP3 of the performance to a full-fledged music video.

"Because it is so ingrained in the students' culture, we felt that music would be our tool to connect with the students," O'Loughlin said. "We think it's one of the more important ways, a powerful connection tool."

In this video, "Pemdas," KlabLab worked with students to create a video explaining the order of operations in solving mathematical equations:

O'Loughlin and Haberman then take the music to their "super producer" Doug Allen, who handles all of the musical production efforts, transforming the students' efforts into a polished and professional-looking product. Allen is also a co-founder of KlabLab, assisting Haberman in the classroom and plays a major role on the technology side of the organization as well.

"In essence, we're fooling the students into writing a report and delivering it orally," Haberman added. We've had students write a song, then stay after school until after 5 p.m. to finish. Voluntarily."

It was the combination of background in both music and education that inspired the pair to create something as unique as KlabLab.

Before helping to create KlabLab, O'Loughlin received a Master's in Education from the U.S. International University in San Diego, Calif. After finishing school, he was a part-time high school teacher before transitioning into a business career. But he's also been a drummer since age 12 and continues to play in several San Francisco Bay Area bands. And now, his main duties with KlabLab involve building the organization's educational partnerships and maintaining its online presence.

"The most important thing is we're approaching this from a boots-on-the-ground approach," he said. "We're seeing what works and encouraging the voices of students and teachers."

Meanwhile, Haberman, who leads KlabLab's song writing and in-classroom engagement, was also already combining his dual passions for education and music.

Before joining KlabLab last year, he was serving as a substitute teacher and pursuing teaching credentials at San Jose State University. He has also recorded an album with his band, Of Shape and Sound. However, he became disillusioned with what he described as the "serious limitations" of an inherent bureaucracy in the educational system that he says fails to engage both students and teachers.

"We're trying to change the way people look at the educational process and bring a more creative process back into the system of learning," Haberman said. "Bring the kids back as well. It's all about the kids and the teachers. It's a great group effort."

The first leg of KlabLab's "Sound of Knowledge" California tour continues through mid-June. After that, O'Loughlin and Haberman hope to embark on a national tour this fall.

"Parents and educators across the nation and around the globe are seeking innovative, inexpensive ways to inspire engagement, creativity and collaboration in class," said O'Loughlin said. "It's time for a revolution in education, and KlabLab knows that music has the power to inspire learning."

And along the way, they'll be creating more videos like "Preposition Punk," finding success where so many other teachers have failed, in making the rules of the English language an entertaining and informative process:

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