After close to two years – and thanks to a visionary principle – I was able to start a Webmaker club in my daughter’s school. Web literacy is not a part of British Columbia’s curriculum. I’ve learned a lot, here’s the Cole’s Notes:
The only window for our club is between 12:25 and 1:00 – lunch break. Our first class was about 28 kids, but as weather got better (and more kids opted to play outside) that slowly declined leaving a core group of enthusiasts. This change has been great actually, it means I can remove myself from directing at ‘the front’ of the class and just be among my learners.
Lesson Plan? Nay…lesson ‘guide’
Optimistic as ever , I wrote a detailed lesson plan – one that quickly fell to the side. For example, as soon as we started editing the school wiki, a wiki editor declined our edits and redirected to the school district wiki. I had to explain *why* first to myself, and then my class. So our goal of populating the school wiki with history fell apart quickly. Goal changed to improving local wikis – which was successful but different than planned :)
I also found kids less interested in creating webpages than I expected. Perhaps the age group but the number top requests are: ‘how do we make an app’ and ‘how do we make a robot’. Age group is 11 years old, so as minimal consumers of the web (so far) – this make sense they want to make more interactive technology they see on smart phones and tablets every day. Focusing on app-like makes (like flipping Christmas card in Thimble) vrs ‘make a webpage’ overcame short attention spans and avoided overwhelm.
My plan to blog for each lesson fell by the side, as I realized parents weren’t really reading them.
Half an hour isn’t much
A half hour isn’t enough to get kids get ‘into their zone’, but it’s all we have. I do my best to bring only small pieces for challenge, but often kids have to stop mid-make to return to class.
Although I have entire computer lab, the computers are a bit slow and lacking a modern browser (Firefox of Chrome), so I bring in my two Macs. I have two streams of learning – to suit the technology available. I haven’t been able to find adequate technology donations, but also I haven’t had time to properly invest in trying.
A snippet approach to Webmaker
I would love a snippet or lego approach to Webmaking. Building individual components and functionality (as we do in web development) with a final make ‘of’ those components. This could encourage not only remix but re-usablity – another coding best practice. Libraries of webmaking components.
Additionally, I would like to see Popcorn Maker – more hack-friendly. We tried to extract Popcorn Maker code and add in another Popocorn.js plugin (specifically Webpage), and found that wasn’t possible at least not intuitively. A huge win for would be to show kids what Popcorn Maker could do, and then show them how to hack source and add other popcorn.js plugins (or their own!). On a related note: I think more Popcorn plugins would be written if there was an easier way to ‘add them in’ to Popcorn Maker.
We were successful at hacking Popcorn Maker CSS by pasting it into Thimble.
I’ll admit, Scratch reminds me of Visual basic programming from the early 2000’s and I have bad memories of that. I also worry that learning is so abstracted from actual code that it becomes just another game. BUT Thanks to Hour of Code, and some testing I truly had opportunity to appreciate the learning opportunity for things like variables, loops, conditions, actions – now something I would always include, especially with opportunity for storytelling.
Selfishly, I have been wanting to learn more about Arduino and Raspberry Pi – thanks to Dethe, I was able to take a few to my class. The faces of my kids when we made the LED light change blinking patter with Arduino was priceless – this is what we’re working on right now.
Becoming one of the Students
I had this perfect world of preparation in my mind where I would learn to do XYZ with Raspberry Pi and Ardunio before bringing to my class but with a full time job and family, that just never happened. INSTEAD I brought my own curiosity and questions to my group and now we’re figuring things out together. I cannot say how FUN this is – I cannot wait for next week.
My Club was supposed to be 12 weeks, we are now on week 15 and my learners and I have agreed we’ll just keep going because it’s fun. One of my kids brought me a card of thanks and his mother stopped me in the hallway to say how grateful she was – yet I feel like I am giving nothing at all, completely fun and rewarding. I feel most fortunate to know these great kids. I’ll miss them at the end of the year.
There are others interested in setting up clubs (in Canada and beyond), but I have little to no time for follow up. Two subdomains of webmakerclub.org are underway for India and Albania . Interest from Firefox Student Ambassadors has been encouraging.
End of year goal is a web native video using Popcorn Maker. Originally the lesson plan focused on storytelling around school history – instead I’ll ask my group to tell the story of what they’ve learned in our club. I’ll let you know how that goes.
No matter the failings, or deviations from plan – I feel super-successful because I can see the excitement and learning happening right in-front of me; rewarding beyond words. I LOVE teaching.