STEM Week: Hip Hop’ademics

Nettrice Gaskins
3 min readOct 16, 2023
Rapper collage courtesy of Washyy (Steam network)

Massachusetts STEM Week 2023 is Monday, October 16 through Friday, October 20th. This past weekend we had the first of two Hip Hop’ademics workshops for educators. We’re offering the second one this coming Saturday. The purpose of the workshop is to celebrate 50 years of hip hop culture by exploring effective equitable STEAM instruction that reinforces learning through hip hop-inspired making.

Grandmaster Flash courtesy of VICE

The strands are Grades K-2: DJing, Bots & Math; Grade 3–6: Graffiti Tag Blocks with LEDs; and Grade 6+: Rap & Canva AI Art. We make the connection between Grandmaster Flash’s “Quick Mix Theory” and teaching patterns in K-2. We explore the link between math and graffiti using culturally situated design tools or CSDTs and electronics. We also explore rap improvisation and math through generative AI or GenAI.

Computational remixing (of blocks of things)

At the core of everything we look at is computational remixing, something researchers came up with as it relates to visual programming languages such as Scratch or Snap (ex. CSDTs). In Techno-Vernacular Creativity & Innovation I expanded the concept to include cultural materials such as quilt blocks and music samples. TVC remixing is when a producer takes one element and alters parts of it to make another version. These materials are characterized by their modularity, which means that the components can be taken apart, remixed, or translated.

Middle school students explore different ways to remix cultural materials; left: quilt symbols and right: Afrofuturism CSDTs

The act of remixing requires improvisation, referring to a spontaneous and inventive use of materials that elicits active engagement or participation, a key part of hip hop. In other words, hip (learning and knowledge) and hop (remixing and improvisation). We also use GenAI tools such as Google’s TextFx to generate math-inspired rap lyrics, then use lines from the lyrics to generate images using Canva’s AI tool. Here’s something I came up with:

The integer 5 is like a brick in a wall

Like a portal into Nepal

Let your Intelligent ear get your math mind into gear
Like building blocks of stone, while rational numbers become the mortar

That is the only thing standing between you and a cold, hard floor

My GenAI image using Midjourney

As a next step, educators can create an interactive music poster using printouts of their GenAI images, a microcontroller, and other electronic components. Each image represents a line or part of their AI-assisted rap lyrics. At the end of the workshop, everyone (all strands and activities) shares what they created and, if time allows, discuss ways they can implement the activities in their classrooms or programs.

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Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.