Webmaker Exploratory

Two years ago I proposed a Webmaker Club at my daughter’s school, and it was turned down in an email:

 Because it involves students putting (possibly) personal info/images on-line we are not able to do the club at this time.  They did say that they may have to reconsider in the future because more and more of life is happening on-line.

One year later, and because our principle is amazing, and sponsored it – I had a  ‘lunch time’ Webmaker Club at my daughter’s elementary school (grades 4 & 5) .  It was great fun, I learned a lot as always thanks to  challenges : handling the diversity of attendance, interests and limited time.   I never get tired of helping kids ‘make the thing they are imagining’.

This year, I was excited to be invited to lead a Webmaker ‘Exploratory’ in our town’s middle school (grades 6-8).   Exciting on so many levels, but two primarily

1) Teachers and schools are recognizing the need for web literacy (and its absence), and that it should be offered as part of primary education.

2) Schools are putting faith in community partnerships to teach.  At least this is what it feels like to me – pairing a technically-strong teacher, with a community expert in coding/web (whatever) is a winning situation.

My exploratory ran for 7 weeks – we started with 28 kids, and lost a few to other exploratories as they realized that HTML (for example) wasn’t something they wanted to learn.  Of those 28 kids, only 3 were girls, which made me sad. I really have to figure out better messaging.   We covered the basics of HTML, CSS and then JavaScript and slowly built a Memory Card game.  Each week I started the class off with a Thimble Template representing a stage in the ‘building’.

Week3, Week4, Week5, Week6, Week7

I wrote specific instructions for each week that we tracked on a wiki, we used Creative Commons Image Search and talked about our digital footprint.

What worked

Having an ‘example make’ of the milestone  for this class where each week kids could see, in advance what they were making.

Having a ‘starting template‘ for the lesson helped those kids who missed a class, catch up quickly.

Being flexible about that template, meant those kids who preferred to work on their own single ‘make’ could still challenge themselves a bit more.

Baked-In Web Literacy  CC image search brought up conversations about ownership, sharing on the web and using a Wiki led to discussion about how Wikimedia editing and editors build content; about participating in open communities.

Sending my teacher-helper the curriculum a few days before, so she could prepare as a mentor.

Having some ‘other activities’ in my back pocket for kids who got bored, or finished early.  These were just things like check out this ‘hour of code tutorial’.

What didn’t work

We were sharing a space with the ‘year book’ team, who also used the internet, and sometimes  our internet was moving slower than a West Coast Banana Slug.  In our class ‘X Ray Goggles’ challenge, kids sat for long periods of time before being able to do much.   Some also had challenges saving/publishing their X Ray Goggles Make.

Week 2, To get around slow internet –  I brought everyone USB sticks and taught them to work locally – this also was a bit of a fail, as I realized many in the group didn’t know simple terms like ‘directory and folder’.  I made a wrong assumption they had this basic knowledge.  Also I should have collected USB sticks after class, because most lost or damaged in the care of students.  We went back to slow internet – although, it was never as bad as that first day.

Having only myself and one teacher with that many kids meant we were running between kids.  Also slightly unfair to the teacher who was learning along with the group. It also sometimes meant kids waited too long for help.

Not all kids liked the game we were making


So overall I think it went well, we had some wonderful kids, I was proud of all of them.  The final outcome/learning, the sponsoring teacher, and I realized was that many of the lessons (coding, wikipedia, CC) could easily fit into any class project –  rather than having Webmaking as it’s ‘own class’.

So in future, that may be the next way I participate: as someone who comes into say – a social studies class, or history class and helps students put together a project on the web. Perhaps that’s how community can offer their help to teachers in schools, as a way to limit large commitments like running an entire program, but to have longer-lasting and embedding impact in schools.

For the remainder of the year, and next –  my goal seems to be as a ‘Webmaker Plugin’ , helping integrate web literacy into existing class projects :)