Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

Seven Things I Learned Demo-ing the Webmaker App This Summer

This summer, I participated in two exciting learning events in Chicago that gave me a great opportunity to take the Webmaker App on a little test drive. You know, kick the tires and light the fires. Turns out it had great acceleration and handled curves like a dream. Oh, and the kids loved it too!

On Wednesday, July 22, Google hosted a street fair for STEM activities: the Geek Street Festival. Two dozen Chicago organizations participated to lead demonstrations and hands-on activities for almost 5,000 attendees, including thousands of children from Chicago Parks District summer camps! You can watch a great recap video here.

On Sunday, August 8, many of us got back together for the Chicago Southside Mini Maker Faire at the Ford City Mall, hosted by Agape Werks and the Museum of Science and Industry. Many families came out of the mall and walked right up to our tents to make and learn together!

Here are a couple of lessons I learned about the app to help you get the most out of it too.


1. The Web is Really Just 3 Things

Text, graphics and hyperlinks. That’s about it. Lo and behold, this is what you get in the Webmaker App (beta). Yes, the links are in button form, but that’s not the point. So what can you make with just three ingredients? A heck of a lot! So let your imagination go wild!

Oh, and there are pages too I guess; does that make it four things?

We started off with something simple: a “would you rather” style quiz. Would you rather drink coffee or tea? Would you rather play basketball or soccer? Would you rather be the Hulk or Superman? A simple scenario – simple as text, graphics and links – can generate a robust space for creative decision making.

2. Make “Remix” the First Lesson

Constructivists would disagree, but I’ve always been a destructivist at heart. Give me a functional, working thing and I’ll rip it apart and put it back together to be a slightly less functional thing worth a thousand times more to me. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Don’t re-invent the wheel? Scratch that. Break it. Remix it.

This is the hidden beauty at the heart of all Mozilla learning tools, activities and practices. With the Webmaker App, remix is the fundamental unit of currency. Start with a template make and have your kids remix it. They’ll take it from there.

Also, pro-tip: when you’ve got a hundred campers swarming your maker tent like a herd of learning zombies trying to produce brains (not consume them), it helps to have something ready to do, immediately, rather than a blank slate for them to stare at.

3. Kids of All Ages Love Paper Prototypes and Crayons

Which brings me to the next part. Just because you’re teaching tech doesn’t mean paper and crayons have no place. Before you jump into the digital space, start in the analog one. Giving learners a piece of paper and some crayons to imagine their own personal [insert whatever] really gets the creative juices flowing and primes the webmaking pump. It’s also just way easier to make and fix mistakes before you dive in.

But the real wins here? First, pacing: by giving people some time to think on paper, you spread the workflow out to engage more visitors to your maker station in a continuous flow of activity. Second, age-range: adding this step to the activity makes your station accessible to kids aged 2 to 102. So what if that toddler can’t quite handle the app? They still learned some crayon logic. It also keeps them busy while their older siblings mess around.

4. Maintain Creative Flow

You know when you’re in the zone? Like, when you’ve lost an hour trying to pick a color or a font, size an image, place something perfectly, wordsmith that killer comment, etc. and you didn’t even notice? You don’t want to break that flow. You wanna stay in the zone, right?

So before you engage learners in the remix, front load all the non-design stuff. Part of that is the paper prototype, but the other parts are naming your remix (yes do this right away) and searching/downloading all the images you want to use locally to the device.

Trust. Once you’re in the make, you wanna stay in the make.

5. Bigger is Better

Trying to demonstrate how to use the app on a small tablet or smartphone screen can really put eyesight to the test (especially outdoors in bright sun). It tests your patience and limits you to one or two participants at a time. So, think big. Purchase a Google Chromecast for less than $50 and use it to screencast your device on a big screen. We used a busted old 40” flatscreen TV from my garage. You can buy a sweet 24” Viewsonic LED monitor with portrait view (to match the tablet and phone aspect) for just over $200 on Amazon.

6. A Surprising Number of American Kids Use iPhones or iPads

For now, the Webmaker App is available only for Android devices. I didn’t think this would be a major constraint, but it limited the final sell: continue this at home. The good news? Webmaker App makes can be shared and played on the web! Make sure that once your maker is done with their remix, that you show them how to share a link to their make on the web using email. Don’t skip this critical win.

7. Take the Time to Setup Your Devices

Before heading out into the wild to work through these activities on your own, take the time to setup your devices to make sure that the template makes are bookmarked in your browser for quick access; that you have a single, common Webmaker account everyone can share (rather than letting people sign into their own, which slows things down); and that there is an outgoing email account setup and ready to use. It also helps to download a bunch of standard images, like candy and ice cream, Superman and the Hulk, or basketballs and soccer balls.


Resources

Download and customize both of these two template makes for an introductory and level-up experience:

  • Would You Rather? http://bit.ly/webmaker-wldurather is a simple two-choice quiz, with no wrong answers and all the links pre-arranged for a quick make.
  • Pop Quiz! http://bit.ly/webmaker-popquiz is a slightly more complex quiz with three choices, two wrong answers and none of the links pre-arranged, providing a good decision-logic test for understanding.

Use these paper prototypes to provide a structured thought-space for app brainstorm.

Print out and cut up these Webmaker app promo cards to quickly share the app for download.

Disruption and Creative Destruction

How do we disrupt the routine? In a connected world where passive likes are mediated by closed, proprietary systems, tracking our behavior and serving us tailored content – how do we disrupt that state of flow and break through to consumers; to inspire makers; to empower folks on the fringes? I believe that it’s not just about making, it’s also about breaking.

I take my primary inspiration from Seymour Papert who believed that true computer education was not about using the computer to program the child, but rather, teaching the child to program the computer. I believe in “machines to think with” that extend our natural ability to construct models, which help us understand the world that we live in. Computers should reveal, not conceal; they should extend our perception, not constrain it.

Today, a computational curriculum focused on hard skill development – coding, scripting, and data analysis – is a dime-a-dozen and abundantly available for K-12 classrooms. Take the Exploring Computer Science curriculum and other recent efforts by code.org as example. In his book Mindstorms, Papert cautioned against activities that integrate these “brute force” computational skills divorced from their social and intellectual context.

Curriculum that teaches how computation influences the way we explore, build and connect togetherskills that develop agency – are hard to find. Despite how we have seen the World Wide Web unlock collaborative potential – like through open science initiatives and citizen science projects, for example – the fundamental literacies required for meaningful, collaborative engagement on the Web are still taken for granted.

I point to the Lamp NYC as an example of a subversive approach to building agency online. They empower young people to manipulate the tech and media algorithms that constrain content we see. They co-opt those systems to promote youth counter narratives instead and in opposition of a media culture that suppresses youth intellectual potential and oppresses their self-image. Their Media Breaker and Breakathon programs are an inspiration to me.

Teaching web literacy skills in the culturally relevant way that the Lamp does is critically important to complete a full computational and technological curriculum. As evidenced by recent work from scholars like danah boyd in “It’s Complicated” and Dr. Carrie James in “Disconnected”, young people empowered and amplified through technology without the cultural context have an incomplete experience rife with moral and ethical blind-spots.

I offer a very modest and narrow personal example to illustrate these points.

After teaching a student to use Mozilla’s web literacy teaching tools over a dozen Saturdays, she came into one of our final classes with a huge grin on her face, proud and excited to share a story. She told me that she had submitted a webpage in place of an essay for an assignment at school. She had used X-ray Goggles to hack a newspaper site and replace the existing content with her own. Her teacher’s flow was disrupted; my student was inspired and an interesting ethical lesson lay just beneath the surface as well, about the clever presentation of ideas to establish credibility or stature.

I imagine bringing this disruptive experience to the forefront of web literacy education, both as the entry-level experience for learners, but also in the way that we engage other educators in this work as well. We need to tap into educators who are frustrated and bored by Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, Powerpoint, or other day-to-day technology experiences. Can we break into these platforms directly to disrupt their flow in the way X-ray Goggles allows? It doesn’t necessarily require a new toolset, it’s the experience we create that matters.