Hip-hop happy: TuneTable helps kids learn coding basics through music

As some states consider computer coding as a foreign-language high school credit, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Northwestern University are developing a musical table to teach kids the basics of programming. They’re calling the interactive exhibit TuneTable, and they hope its vibe will resonate with youth across the United States.

The table emerged from a design challenge that Brian Magerko, the project lead and an associate professor at GT, posed to his students. Magerko and his team had already created EarSketch, an online platform that allows high school students to make music through code, and in doing so practice languages like Python, JavaScript, and Blockly by blending beats, effects, and samples. Magerko asked his college students to apply a similar approach to an informal learning environment, and to compress the weeks’ worth of learning time involved in EarSketch to just a few minutes.

“We focus on musical genres that have a rich history in sample-based composition, like hip-hop and electronica.”

The result looks something like a digital air hockey table equipped with pucks and speakers. Using computer vision, the table’s interactive surface reads printed markers on the pucks, each of which corresponds to a sampled sound or command. Through these commands, kids are introduced to basic coding concepts like iterations, functions, and conditionals, accompanied by contemporary music like hip-hop and electronica.

“Traditional Western music is fairly difficult to compose in, especially for a novice with no prior training in music theory,” Magerko tells Digital Trends. “Rather than try to tackle that difficult problem, we sidestep the theory issue by focusing on musical genres that have a rich history in sample-based composition, like hip-hop and electronica.”

TuneTable is designed to let students manipulate musical samples, which Magerko says gives it a relatively easy learning curve. “It also doesn’t hurt that these genres are wildly popular in U.S. youth culture,” he says, “adding the potential for a higher degree of personal relevance to a learner compared to writing programs to make simple classical melodies and harmonies, for instance.”

Although TuneTable is still in its prototype phase, the device is expected to be installed next year at the Museum of Design Atlanta and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. In the meantime, Magerko and his team are considering adding other basic coding concepts to challenge kids to explore further.

“The real trick is to balance a gentle initial learning curve — and different age users — with the potential for exploration and expressivity,” he says.

Emerging Tech

I mainlined a bag of liquid vitamins — for science

Healthy people are signing up for treatments that are typically saved for patients stuck in hospital beds. Known as nutrient IV therapy, the treatment entails pumping vitamins, minerals, and fluids directly into the bloodstream, bypassing…
Movies & TV

These are the best movies streaming on Hulu right now (May 2019)

From dramas to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The 7 best TV episodes you can watch on YouTube for free

TV networks have made a habit of putting episodes from popular series on YouTube for free. From premium platforms like Showtime to experimental newcomers like Viceland, we compiled a few of the best episodes available on YouTube.

The Ecovacs Deebot 601 robot vacuum gets a huge 50% price cut on Amazon

Nobody likes spring cleaning season, but smart devices like robot vacuums have made cleaning easier than ever. Roomba may rule the roost, but affordable options abound, like the Ecovacs Deebot 601, now 50% off on Amazon.
Emerging Tech

Airbus shows off the futuristic interior of its autonomous flying taxi

Airbus has given us the first look inside its single-seat flying taxi. The absence of controls in the Vahana electric aircraft is a reflection of its autonomous capabilities, so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Emerging Tech

What would it take to build a Matrix-level simulation of reality?

What would it take, technologically speaking, to build a real version of the Matrix? We definitely don't have the technical abilities to do that now, but we're rapidly approaching the point that we will. In this article, MIT computer…
Emerging Tech

Future smart clothes promise to keep you the perfect temperature at all times

Regulating your body temperature can sometimes be tough. Engineers from UC San Diego have developed heating and cooling wearable tech which could be embedded into future smart clothing.
Emerging Tech

Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 aborts marker drop mission

The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft's mission to drop a reflective marker on the surface of asteroid Ryugu has been aborted. The Japanese team was considering a second touchdown on the asteroid to collect more materials, but this now seems unlikely.
Emerging Tech

Whose name should we etch on the Mars 2020 rover? NASA wants a vote

Dream of making it to Mars? NASA has opened up a new public outreach program to let people send their names to the Red Planet, as an engraving on a silicon chip launched with the Mars 2020 rover.
Emerging Tech

Watch live as SpaceX tries, for the third time, to launch 60 Starlink satellites

SpaceX is having another go at launching the first 60 satellites for its ultra-ambitious Starlink internet constellation. Here's how you can tune in live to watch it all go down today.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX joins internet-from-space race with launch of 60 Starlink satellites

SpaceX has launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying its first batch of Starlink satellites for its ambitious internet-from-space project. The payload, SpaceX's heaviest to date, successfully deployed an hour after liftoff.
Emerging Tech

The best solar chargers for your phone, tablet, and other battery-powered gear

Looking for a gizmo that can help you charge your phone while on the go? Here, we've outlined the best solar chargers on the market, whether you're looking to charge your phone once, twice, or three times over.
Emerging Tech

This plane-pulling robo-dog makes Boston Dynamics’ Spot look scrawny

A robot dog created by researchers at Italy’s Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia showed off its impressive ability to pull a three-ton airplane down a runway. Check it out in action.