How Hip-Hop Is Introducing Children To Coding And Technology

Written by Staff

At hackathons in New York, students rap about HTML, CSS and Python.

When Jamel Mims teaches young, lower-income minority students in New York, he doesn’t deploy traditional materials like a blackboard, a whiteboard or PowerPoint. He uses a microphone—turned up loud for politicised raps—and mobile phones with augmented-reality apps. Mims’s “interactive hip-hop classroom” uses music as an entry point into discussions about politics, race, class and gender.

From The Economist. Story by G.M.

“Schools usually say cell phones are distracting, but the world says cell phones and other technologies are a desirable aspect of youth culture. So we try to leverage that in the classroom whenever we can,” Mims says. “Students who are disengaged and turned off by pen and paper tests need to feel reinvigorated.”

Mims’s classroom is one piece of a much larger community of activists and educators working to connect underprivileged American students to technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, coding and production through the music and culture of hip-hop. Summer programs and monthly hackathons have been developed to target students who are lagging behind their age-mates, often as a result of having transferred schools several times.

At the first Hip Hop Hacks event this April, roughly 500 young people from New York and New Jersey spent the day in workshops learning HTML, CSS and DJ production. Perhaps just one in 20 attendees had experience with technology; the rest were drawn to the hip-hop element, Sommer McCoy, the organiser, said.

McCoy was inspired by an event she attended in 2015 at which words like “HTML”, “CSS”, “Python”, and “hacks” were written on a white board and students were asked to freestyle rap using those words. Seeing how hip-hop music could encourage young people to take an interest in technology, she set about planning Hip Hop Hacks.

“The goal is for them to say ‘Oh my god, this is HTML, let me take another class,’ and look at hip-hop not just as music on the radio, but as history, and see how tech has been a part of hip-hop all along,” McCoy said.

Other tech giants are getting involved. Tumblr hosted a Hip Hop Hacktivists “social coding” event in June for young people from schools with 70 percent dropout rates, those with criminal records, those who are homeless or LGBT.

Nearly 50 young attendees worked with engineers from Tumblr, Uber, Facebook, Google and the New York Times to create apps using open-data APIs from New York government services.

One group built a mobile app that locates social services like food stamps.

McCoy is planning 2018 programs in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Newark, New Jersey, and Richmond, Virginia, as well as a middle school event in Brooklyn.

Read more at The Economist.

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