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 politicized raps—and mobile phones with augmented-reality apps. Mr Mims’s “interactive hip-hop classroom” uses music as an entry point into discussions about politics, race, class and gender.
One lesson centred upon Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school pupil who was arrested in 2015 on suspicion of building a hoax bomb when he brought a self-assembled clock to school. Mr Mims aims not for lecturing, but for dialogue. He puts printed pictures of Mohamed on the wall, and asks students to scan them via an app. A menu of items pops up instantly: Mohamed’s Twitter feed; a 360-degree view of an interrogation room (meant to simulate the one Mohamed was taken to); a SoundCloud song; a quiz; a hip-hop video produced by Mr Mims. The lesson takes about 30 minutes; students respond to what they’ve learned by posting about Mohamed on Instagram. “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,” Mr Mims says. “Students who are disengaged and turned off by pen and paper tests need to feel reinvigorated.”