Using hip-hop to educate is nothing new, but few people have implemented the mechanisms and sounds of the culture into a classroom quite like Jamel Mims. As a member of the New York-based, not-for-profit Urban Arts Partnership organization, Mims uses hip-hop culture to teach underprivileged students about coding and technology.

Speaking with The Economist, Mims recently offered insight into the way he uses rap, social media and cell phones to engage his students on their own playing field, often times eschewing traditional tools in the academic world's utility belt.

“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 of his organization and his “interactive hip-hop classroom." “Students who are disengaged and turned off by pen and paper tests need to feel reinvigorated.”

Mims "reinvigorates" his students by using a microphone to rap freestyles loaded with educational information and allowing students to use their cell phones to document their experiences. That rapping, along with virtual reality workshops work to provide a portal into multilayered discussions about race, politics and gender.

According to The Economist, Mims is just one part of a growing group of people looking to educate the underprivileged about things like coding and technology. Sommer McCoy, who organizes events designed to educate students about coding and other parts of the tech world, says an event she attended back in 2015—one where attendees were asked to freestyle using words like “HTML”, “CSS”, “Python”, and “hacks”—inspired her to form a workshop called Hip-Hop Hacks.

The first Hip Hop Hacks event took place in April of last year, and attendees learned about things like DJ production, HTML and CSS. The organizers say 20 attendees had significant knowledge of technology going into the event, but almost all of them were big time music enthusiasts. Sounds legit.

At another event she held at Spotify this past June, students learned how to build apps, trademarks, patents and code. “The common denominator is that they all listen to music. They all came to the event with headphones, and they’re listening to hip-hop,” McCoy told The Economist. “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.”

Sounds good to us. Salute to teachers using hip-hop to make the world make sense.

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