Mehackit is a Finnish company developing educational courses in creative technology. They are offering workshops for upper elementary and high schools in the Nordic countries and have been to more than seventy schools in Finland and Sweden alone. In June, they are finally coming our way. Mehackit will host a workshop on creative programming, using the open source software Sonic Pi. We had a chat with Tommi Toivonen, one of the instructors, about Mehackit and why Sonic Pi will make our future a brighter one.
What is the idea behind Mehackit and how did it begin?
– Mehackit wants to make technology education equally available to everyone. We started out in 2014, with the aim of making an impact on youth that were about to finish school and apply for universities. Most of them didn't have any experience from school with computer programming or robotics (1). Therefore, Mehackit started offering courses to high schools in Finland. It was an attempt at giving pupils a positive, fun and inspiring experience with technology that could influence their choice of studies. Since the beginning, we have gradually grown to offer courses in three topics: robotics, visual arts and music.
Jenny Berger Myhre, one of our conference speakers, has told us how a lot of musicians see it as an obstacle to try and integrate technology in their music once they have reached a certain age. It's as though the thought of what they feel they should've known already, prevents them from trying to learn something new?
– There seems to be a certain fear connected to technology and programming. It prevents some people from even trying to learn the basics of coding or developing other creative skills using technology. We think it's important to break these learning barriers by teaching students how there's no need to be a genius in order to start programming. In that regard, Sonic Pi is a brilliant tool for beginners. Instead of feeling let down by the tech-side of it, the students will most likely experience how it's fun, creative and easy to learn right from the start!
Do you organize courses in coding (with Sonic Pi) only for kids or also for grown-ups?
– Our main focus at the moment moment is with the upper elementary and high schools, but every now and then we do courses and workshops for adults as well. Sonic Pi is a brilliant learning platform for all ages, so there is definitely no upper age limit there.
What responses have you gotten from the Sonic Pi workshops you have organized so far?
– Most of the kids and adults love it! In so many ways it's a lot more engaging to hear a pulsating drum beat or a synth line coming from your headphones, than seeing your computer display show ”Hello World!” (2). Sonic Pi is showing both students and teachers how programming is not just a technological skill, but also a creative tool that can be used for artistic self expression. Besides, the fact that the software is free and available to most operating systems, makes it easy for the students to continue learning after they finish the workshops. I think our future will be much brighter by having tools like Sonic Pi available and taught in schools, homes and who knows what other places.
Sonic Pi is created by Sam Aaron at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. It can be downloaded for free here. We are incredibly excited about the upcoming workshop with Mehackit. More info about signing up will come soon!
1) Robotics is the science of building devices that require the skills of programming, engineering, crafting and electronics. This video explains what robotics means in the Mehackit context.
2) A so-called "Hello, World!" program is often used to introduce new programmers to the programming language.