Victoria Kids Hack Jam! It happened, it was awesome…we learned some things too

So after two months of preparation we finally reached June 23rd: the first day of Mozilla Summer of Code , and our participating event: Victoria Kids Hackjam – Hackasaurus!

30 Kids, 30 computers, 8 fabulous volunteers later I have to say it went really well.  The lab, donated by the University of Victoria was beautiful.  We had a great group of kids, and a diverse group of volunteers  (running this event was worth it just for the interesting people I got to meet and work with).

You can see some of the kid’s handywork & photos on the Victoria Hack Jam WordPress Site

I learned a few things as well.  The first thing I learned was that no matter how much you know about the subject you are teaching, no matter how confident you are in the words you choose… teaching is not easy, it’s not straight forward and what works for one group of kids, may not work for the other.  (I’m sure my teacher friends are laughing at me by now). 

  • That  while each child having a computer is a beautiful thing!  (I’ve mostly worked with a 10 kid to 1 computer ration to this point)  Computers should be turned off, or in sleep mode during instruction! 
  • My colleague Clint Lalonde had a great icebreaker with a Mozilla Puzzle (explaining in the end that the web is made up of many pieces).  I LOVED this idea.  Still do, and will use it again – however – perhaps less pieces, and less complexity for quicker completion.
  • Again, individual computers are nice – but kids learn by working together as well!  I wish we had planned one group activity (even in pairs)
  • Ages 9 – 14 (our age group) meant that some kids were ahead of others, and even getting bored.  A lesson should  include at least one team activity or age-appropriate task lists.  And maybe this age-spread was just too big.
  • My description of hacking need some work – I explain that hacking is not all bad (kind of like you only hear car crashes in the news, but most cars are driving safely), but I didn’t really explain how Hackasaurus is not bad (some confusion as to whether we were hacking live sites or not).
  • Although we didn’t have time to award/or figure out how to award ‘badges’, I forgot completely about having ‘certificates’ for kids to take home.

The computer distraction hijacked the last part of the instruction (image tags, text – examples)  and I feel a bit frustrated that this happened – that it could have been better, but I suppose a learning opportunity is still of value, and the kids still had fun.  This in large part to the volunteers who were able to help at every step.

We used Thimble and Hackasaurus for our event.  At first we were only using Hackasaurus, but kids looking for greater challenge or fun really enjoyed the animal building project.  Thimble itself is very approachable in the context of projects, but the coding side could use some revisiting in our opinion.    We found the dark-bolded commenting overwhelmed the actual code.  Commenting is used to describe code, and I think the comments are overwhelming in context of that purpose and should be minimized.  The code itself seemed lost in the comments.

We also found Thimble’s error-help hover confusing for kids.  As it was right over their cursor, they were confused as to what they were editing .  I think the help text should be aligned top-right/bottom-right in a dependable place.  That way kids know where to look for it, without being forced to aknowledge it.

Hackasaurus was great, but the recent removal of the ‘publish’ option,  hijacked our sharing a bit.  We tried to take screen shots, save source to files – and in the end I think we lost some work.  My hope is that I can eventually run Hackasaurus on my own server/edit the code etc.  to avoid this problem in future.

Finally, we hope to do another event later in the Summer perhaps with Popcorn!  Seeing as Brett Gaylor, Director of this project lives in Victoria – it would be a shame not to. I have to spend some time learning all about it first.