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February 12, 2014


MRH’s “Smokies Cool” Homemade Video Goes Viral Nationwide

In April of last year, MRHMS embarked on their annual 7th grade expedition to The Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont. This year would be much different for a select number of students from MRHMS. Tom McFadden, a science teacher and musician who specializes in making mash-ups of pop music and science content, contacted the institute to offer his services of helping the student’s construct videos.

During the five-day expedition, the selected students had the opportunity to work extensively and closely with Tom McFadden and Tremont Naturalist Caleb Carlton to create an informative video that would eventually go viral reaching over 13,000 hits on YouTube. Currently, McFadden a middle school science teacher in California, helps students around the United States to express themselves in a number of creative ways in the name of science. MRHMS was selected to create the Salamander video because of the broad range of diversity present within the district, the technological strides and advances, along with the sustainability and biodiversity programs that are an integral part of the mission. McFadden helped guide MRH students with telling the story of all of the salamander species living in the Smoky Mountains. In just five days, students wrote, performed, and produced a video that would receive accolades from across the nation.

Through this partnership they created a musical sing-a-long with a medley of sampled songs from artists including Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and Justin Bieber. Within the last couple of months, the YouTube video has gone viral nationwide. It went from approximately 4,000 views at the end of 2013 to over 13,000 at the beginning of the 2014 spring semester.

A number of organizations and individuals have contacted MRH Middle School to express how impressed they are with the student’s salamander video and to share how they are incorporating into their curriculum or their everyday practices.

A viewer from Oceans 180 was so impressed that they invited MRHMS to be judges of a national video contest around ocean discovery and research. The students from MRH were invited to participate as judges in the Ocean 180 Video Challenge hosted by the Florida Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE Florida). The Ocean 180 Video Challenge ( is a nationwide video contest designed to encourage ocean scientists to share their discoveries and excitement for research with students and the public in a 180 second video. Students in the MRHMS Sustainability Class viewed ten video abstracts and they later selected the top three videos.

One student who viewed the video was Ben Clark, an eighth grade student at St. Ann Academy in Connecticut and a National Park Service Biodiversity Youth Ambassador. He saw the “#SmokiesCool” video on YouTube and was very impressed.

“It was both fun and educational. I love how you used different styles of music to connect with different kinds of people. I thought you all might like to know about an awesome event called the BioBlitz. The BioBlitz is a biodiversity festival held in a different National Park every year where you get to work with top scientists, teachers, and students from around the country to find as many species as possible in 24 hours! In 2014, the BioBlitz will be held at Golden Gate National Recreation Area March 28 and 29th. As the NRSS National Park Biodiversity Youth Ambassador, it is my job to get kids excited about conserving biodiversity. I thought that your video was a fantastic way to do that,” says Clark.   

Not only has it received recognition from their peers, it has also gained the respect and attention of professionals throughout the science community.  Just last month, MRHMS received an email from Mark Danaher, District Wildlife Biologist for the Francis Marion National Forest in Huger, SC. Mr. Danaher wrote,

“ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY FANTASTIC! What a smile this video put on my face today! Anyway, I could write 1000 words of why this type of education/involvement/outreach is so critical for youth, especially with today’s generation. The children who helped make this video will never forget what they learned and their experiences. Talk about “paying if forward!” Keep up the great work. As a professional wildlife biologist, father of three, and ardent advocate for getting kids back into nature, you can only imagine how happy I was to see this video!”

Most recently, the founders of the Colorado Environmental Film Festival contacted Scott McClintock, middle school science teacher, via twitter. They inquired about showing the video at their film festival. “I received the video through my national Project Learning Tree network of state coordinators and I have shared it with many others online. Everyone LOVES it,” said Shawna Crocker, Project Learning Tree Coordinator and CEFF founder.

Not a week goes by that MRHMS isn’t hearing from more people across the nation who are sharing and using the Salamander video in classrooms, nature centers, national parks, universities, and environmental groups. As one commenter on the YouTube channel said, “ This is the best music video ever made about Smoky Mountain salamander diversity, or maybe just the best music video ever.“  

For more information, contact MRH School District at (314) 644-4400.