Amy Burvall’s Edupunk Revolution


What is Edupunk? (image from

What is Edupunk? (image from

In my perennial quest to expose the most innovative digital storytellers plying their crafty art I recently happened onto Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) via a history-forward reinterpretation of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (watch the video below).

A what? Yes. Five minutes of totally subversive history teaching. Guerrilla pedagogical genius!

I challenge you to watch/listen to all 299 seconds without thrusting your hips and grooving along. But beware that groove will be with you when you finish. It’ll reprogram your brain.

Amy Burvall’s reinterpretation of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”

Convinced? Amy Burvall is to teaching what MTV was to the radio star.

“But I can’t stand Lady Gaga,” you say.

Really? If Lady Gaga — or better yet, Amy Burvall — had been your middle school or high school history teacher I’m willing to bet you’d remember a little more about the French Revolution. And The Trojan War and The Crusades and The Spanish Inquisition. It’s just a hunch.

History for Music Lovers

Amy Burvall, a full-time Humanities teacher at the Le Jardin Academy on Oahu, and Herb Mahelona, the choir director of the Kamehameha Schools Hawai’i Campus, teamed up about four years and fifty some odd videos ago to refresh their classroom bag of tricks. The duo, History for Music Lovers, (aka @historyteacherz) has inspired teachers, students and innovative digital storytellers around the globe to re-imagine what’s possible with digital stories as pedagogical tools, especially when you cloak knowledge in catchy, familair rhythms. By harnessing the sometimes edgy, always addictive energy of pop music videos they’re leading an exciting edupunk revolution.

What is Edupunk?

Back in the digital dark ages (ie. May 25, 2008) Jim Groom birthed the term “edupunk” on his blog which quickly polarized his enthusiasts and critics.

Edupunk is about the utter irresponsibility and lethargy of educational institutions and the means by which they are financially cannibalizing their own mission. ~ Jim Groom (Fast Company)

A style of hands-on self-education that benefits the student without concern for curriculums or the interests of schools, corporations or governments. In other words, an autodidactic approach that spurns commercialism, mass-market approaches and top-down goal-setting. (

“Edupunk” is an educational approach that combines creative drive with a maverick attitude, celebrating a kind of cocky, do-it-yourself confidence in which the educator—or possibly the student—designs the tools for teaching and learning. It speaks directly to the corporatization of education—and doesn’t say nice things about it. (elearn Magazine)

Edupunk n. Avoiding mainstream teaching tools like Powerpoint and Blackboard, edupunks bring the rebellious attitude and DIY ethos of ’70s bands like the Clash to the classroom. (

[Edupunk is] a new instructional style that is defiantly student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance. (

Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics — hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests — and makes them relevant to today’s digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely. (BlogHer)

All well and good of course, except if one considers, along with blogger Ken Carroll, that the concept of punkoid profs might also not be a little ridiculous… (

Am I the only one to find this Edupunk meme ridiculous? The adolescent ethos, music, etc, are matched only by the adolescent narcissism,  anger, wilful non-conformity,  sanctimony, and tirades against authority. Fine, except this is all coming from teachers!…  These guys look intellectually and emotionally indistinguishable from their students…  Allowing Edupunks to define themselves as agents of humanitarian uplift is absurd. Forty year old tenured men in hoodies, talking about revolution is no more than perpetual adolescence and self-indulgence… I would not recommend that we politicize learning 2.0 and certainly not by reducing it to the level of  of DIY culture. (Ken Carroll)

Edupunk Video Star

If Jim Groom is edupunk’s apparet progenitor, then Amy Burvall is edupunk’s uncontested poster girl!

TEDxHONOLULU: Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona

Although I’m more sympathetic to the edupunk enthusiasts quoted above, I haven’t yet attempted a true deep dunk in the debate to opine intelligently. But I taught middle school and high school students in my twenties long enough to recognize that

  1. kids are naturally curious, hungry and capable learners,
  2. teachers, curriculums and schools often stifle students’ native aptitude,
  3. innovative, flexible experiential learning trumps the alternative,
  4. kids crave energized, smart, creative, risk taking teachers,
  5. and students learn more (and better) when their teachers are passionate and invested.

So rather than wrangling over the pedagogical merits of edupunk, I suggest more teachers learn from Amy Burvall. And once your kids have sung and danced their way to college, let’s start generating some real data based on these students’ experiences. Is the video star teaching them better than the stuffed shirt across the hall who trots out the same old dusty pedagogical playbook year after year? My guess is yes. Let’s find out!

And in the mean time, I tip my Napoleonic bicorne to Ms. Burvall. For teaching in the first place; for taking risks in the classroom; for creating wildly creative teaching tools; for unleashing passion, passion, passion; and for top notch digital storytelling, Ms. Burvall, you are my hero. Consider me one of your newest and most enthusiastic students.