Lab Fellow Portraits #3 | Tetrapix*

Coding with old milk packs

What do used Tetra Pak packages have to do with programming? A lot when we talk about Tetrapix, which is one of six Fellow-Teams in the Urban Ideation Lab, the laboratory for the urban quarter of the future and heart of B-Part Am Gleisdreieck. The Berlin BNE-Startup by Marie-Luise Schade and Bastian Babec teaches schoolchildren the basics of our digital world with the simplest means, such as recycled materials and a lot of fun with handicrafts.

Children don’t need any previous knowledge to try out their algorithms on self-crafted objects. The Tetrapix concept looks like this: The simple formula is “1 halved tetrapack = 2 pixels”, and any number of “tetrapixels” can be used to create screens. All that is missing is a simple, child-friendly interface and a homemade giraffe made from tetra packs can be illuminated as a display. The algorithm programmed by the children instructs the individual pixels to light up according to their rules, to blink or to change color tones, so that the desired animations result. The code for a chess computer may be somewhat more complicated, but in principle, adult programmers do the same thing as the little ones.

Tetrapix was founded about a year and a half ago, but the team has been active in the field of digital education for quite some time. The actual starting shot was in 2016 when Luise and Bastian won the Code Week Award, which was presented by Gesche Joost, the former Internet Ambassador appointed by the German government. The Tetrapix team won the award for their idea “TetraTetris”, teaching children how to easily recreate and program the computer game Tetris.

This project attracted numerous inquiries from schools, educational initiatives, foundations or companies and with the reward, the team was able to finance the further development, which today results in an extensive range of further training courses for teachers and workshops for pupils, predominantly for 4th to 7th grades.

Disused tetrapacks were not thrown away recently in the Bad Belziger Fläming-Gymnasium. Here a 7th class made use of the Tetrapix concept, whereby also the giraffe mentioned at the beginning originated. See also a report in the Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung.

Another big project took place in Baden-Württemberg for the “Climate Foundation for Citizens ” in Sinsheim. Under the patronage of SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp, an open campus for all topics related to education for sustainable development, climate, energy, and others has been created here. Tetrapix is currently developing two workshop formats for the foundation with materials for the training of employees, who in turn use the acquired knowledge in internal school workshops. For another SAP foundation, the HOPP Foundation, the Tetrapix team designed an additional curriculum for all 7th-grade classes in the Rhine-Neckar region, which can be used to teach children computer science in a lively way.

In addition to playful handicrafts and programming, the workshops also have the side effect of taking away the students’ fear of technology. Luise explains, “we often find that when the girls are faced with a choice, they immediately decide to do handicrafts, while the boys all want to program. That’s what it looked like in my interface design studies, where I was almost the only woman among all the men. In our workshops, we now do this in such a way that we subtly ensure that everyone does everything, so that both girls and boys can try their hand at both disciplines. It is very important for us that we introduce girls in particular to this supposed male domain in a playful and casual way.”

Overall, the Tetrapix offer works in several directions: Sustainability, promotion of girls in the MINT subjects (mathematics, computer science, natural sciences, technology) and promotion of school children in the knowledge and application of digital opportunities as the key to modern education in and outside school. So children learn to prepare for the future without having to immerse themselves in a programming language. Another important area is the support of teachers, who often lack the resources and time for their further training. As recycled materials are mainly used, the costs of the Tetrapix remain manageable.

Another basic idea is Open Source. In the IT environments of schools, even the simplest software components can often hardly be installed, since closed, so-called proprietary environments are usually installed here. Tetrapix develops its solutions for this, such as a micro-controller with which the young hackers can get started immediately, without having to worry about the admin.

Last but not least, the Tetrapix team also finds fruitful interfaces to other Fellows within the Urban Ideation Lab. For example, a joint coding and recycling project with the team from Circular Berlin. So, dear parents or teachers, if you’re here: get Tetrapix at your schools!