duminică, 28 iulie 2013

How I hacked the open web with Webmaker

    In March 2013 I was asked to run a Webmaker class at Year Up in San Jose. Webmaker is “a Mozilla project dedicated to helping people create something amazing on the web”. Year Up is also a non-profit organization that provides “urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.”
    This task has been internally codenamed “Beehive.” The initial phase was to gather people around the project that could help in building a curriculum and lesson plans adapted for our target audience, a group of 12 students with ages between 18 and 21. We worked closely with Year Up and decided together to have the classes over an 8 weeks period. The first lesson was an introduction to Mozilla and Webmaker, letting the students know what the classes would be about. We then dedicated two lessons to each Webmaker tool. The last lesson was something that everybody enjoyed a lot, but I’ll talk about that later. The lesson plans were created to fit into 60 minutes, but we were fortunate to have the flexibility to stay longer when needed.
    A valuable help that I had writing the lesson plans were the weekly Webmaker community calls. It didn’t take me long to realize that:
  • There is an amazing world wide community of Webmakers, ready to help.
  • While there are a lot of resources for someone to run a Webmaker presentation/session, the lessons are usually scattered around and it’s hard to find a “How do I start?” page.
  • The majority of the Webmaker mentors have previous teaching experience. I myself never had that, which made this something new for me.

 What is this blog post about?    

    I realized that publishing the lesson plans I wrote and followed while teaching the class could help other Webmaker mentors run their events. While I had a lot of time for my project (8 hours), one can easily adapt my notes and lesson plans to their circumstances. Anyone can teach a Webmaker class, with or without being a professor.
    Below are the lesson plans that we used. You will notice that the time starts at 12:00, so it’s easy to see how much time I’ve allocated for each section. I’ve added notes, where necessary, in squared brackets to explain why I added that part to a lesson. You may not need it during your classes, or you may need to change it. Before the content of each lesson, there is a “Preparation” section where I listed what I had to do before each class. This may vary from case to case. Before each class, I highly recommend you get to the location at least 30 minutes beforehand. This will give you enough time to setup your computer, ensure that the projector works, and fix any unexpected issues that might come up.

Lesson plans

Lesson 1 (introduction)
Lesson 2 (Popcorn, part one)
Lesson 3 (Popcorn, part two)
Lesson 4 (Thimble, part one)
Lesson 5 (Thimble, part two)
Lesson 6 (X-Ray Goggles, part one)
Lesson 7 (X-Ray Goggles, part two)
Lesson 8 (final lesson)

What did we learn

  • During the class, we had to adapt. We learned a lot after each meeting with the students and we shaped the next classes based on what we observed. Thus, it is important that you pay attention to the details, keep notes of what happened during your class (we had someone video recording our lessons, and we reviewed them after) and constantly try to see “What went well and what went wrong? How can we do it better next time?”
  • It is very important to know your students. This process can start even before your first meeting with them. If possible, get their names, age and other information that will help you during your class (hobbies, favorite music, movies, etc). I collected all my students’ email addresses and I kept the communication channel open.
  • Never assume anything. Whatever seems common sense to you does not apply to everything and everybody. This is a broad statement, but it applies to everything: the location of your class (expect the unexpected, like a slow wi-fi or not enough power outlets); the knowledge of your students about the Web, technologies, Internet slang; yourself (do not assume you are well prepared and have all the answers. I realized that we’ve also learned a lot teaching the class).
  • Set specific expectations for the overall course and for each class, right from the beginning. Your students will feel more confident and they will know what will be taught.
  • The number of the students in your class will drop after the first sessions. Don’t panic. This is normal. Their expectations won’t meet what you have prepared for them. My mom wanted me to become a doctor when I was 18, but this never happened. Some people join the first class(es) from curiosity, but then realize this is not for them. I always prefer a smaller group of passionate students rather than a big group of yawning youths.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected: logistics (never hurts to have an extra laptop charger, a video adapter, a network cable, or your personal wireless access point); material you want to cover (some lessons can be faster than the others, so it’s better to have more than less)
  • If you will co-teach, learn not to talk two (or more) at the same time. Doing this only confuses your audience and they don’t know who they should follow. Completing each other sentences is a skill that takes a lot of practice to master. Before each class go over the lesson plan with the other teachers and assign each part of the class to the participating teachers.
  • Follow the lesson plan. Stick to it. If there are multiple teachers, make sure they all read it in advance and they don't improvise. This can be confusing for the other teachers.
  • If you're running a course that stretches during several weeks, stay in touch with the students. Communicate with them via email, refresh their memory if they have an assignment. It’s in human nature to get lazy sometimes, and all we need is a gentle reminder.
  • Have a checklist before each class. This includes, but is not limited to: projector, pens, post-its, laptop charger, video adapter, put your phone on vibrate. Also, look at the checklist at the end of your class too, so you don’t leave behind some of your personal belongings.

What’s next?

    “Beehive” will continue to exist. I’ve been approached by Year Up staff to teach this class during this fall. But I need your help. I would love to see input on how this can be improved. Right now, there are Maker Parties all over the world. I can’t wait to learn from others and see what they are doing. Please share your thoughts by commenting to this post, or if you’d like, email me at thereallove@gmail.com.


    This project could not have been a success without the help of the following people, and I would like to thank them for their amazing and constant support: Dino Anderson, Matthew Zeier, Clarissa Sorenson, Ashlee Chavez, Rick Bryce, Matthew Claypotch, Craig Cook and Osman Alper. A valuable source of inspiration was Hive NYC and the great Webmaker community. And of course, the staff from Year Up campus in San Jose, for providing the classroom and all the other logistics we used to run the class.
    A promo video of this project can be watched here.
    I’ve also designed a Webmaker t-shirt logo. Blueprints are here.