TuneTable's interactive surface and coasters teach the basics of
computer coding through music.
Museums are the next places K-12 students will have a chance to learn
about computer programming. As part of a $3 million grant from the
National Science Foundation, researchers at the Georgia Institute of
Technology and Northwestern University have built a musical, interactive
tabletop exhibit that teaches the basics of computer coding.
It’s called TuneTable. Students move coasters along the table’s
projection surface to make a musical piece using elements of computer
programming. Then they tap the surface to play a series of beats, beeps
and samples. The table will be installed at the Museum of Design Atlanta
in early 2017 and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in the
The project addresses a national need to make major strides in computer
programming literacy for K-12 students.
“It’s also about changing the attitude about computation and exposing it
to people that might not have sought it out otherwise,” said project
lead Brian Magerko, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen
College of Liberal Arts. “Hopefully some of them will think it is a
cool, new way to express themselves.”
The table includes basic computing programming elements that people
would use when learning programming formally for the first time, such as
iteration and go-to statements.
TuneTable’s interactive surface uses computer vision to detect printed
markers — officially they’re called fiducials — on the coasters. Each
coaster is assigned a sound or programming command, such as a splitter
or repeater. People link them together to form a chain of electronic and
hip hop sounds.
“Manipulating notes, chords and rests requires a lot of music theory
knowledge,” said Magerko, who also leads Georgia Tech’s Adaptive Digital
Media lab. “Instead, we’re opting to manipulate music samples with code.
And certain genres, such as electronic and hip hop, map very well
Magerko said they’re also very appealing to underserved populations,
such as women, African-Americans and Latinos. He and Georgia Tech
College of Design Professor Jason Freeman learned that after designing a
nearly 200 high schools across the country. EarSketch students use
digital audio workstations and the programming languages to manipulate
loops and compose music. TuneTable reimagines this experience within a
table allows us bring the basics of computer programming out of the
classroom and into more informal settings such as museums,” said
Freeman, a co-principal investigator on the NSF grant. “Kids can be
playful and social, just by walking up and giving it a try.”
Once the exhibit arrives in museums, people will be able to create their
own music and email it to themselves. They can continue tinkering with
the code when they get home using EarSketch or a tablet version of the
software, which is being designed by Northwestern’s Mike Horn.
“We see the tablet app as a crucial connection point between what kids
experience at the museum with TuneTable and what they learn in school
with EarSketch,” said Horn. “We want it to give kids space and time to
build up foundational computational literacy skills before the deep dive
The project is supported in part by NSF grant AISL-1612644. Any
opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this
material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the
views of the sponsors.