Hack Jam 1 #MakerParty

Last summer, as part of Young Rewired State (YRS), we ran a summer coding camp at our school. I wrote a blog post (here) about it at the time. The YRS 2012 Festival Of Code really opened my eyes to what children can achieve with just a few small coded ingredients and oodles of imagination and creativity. If you have not previously heard of Young Rewired State, you should seriously consider getting involved on some level.

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“The small rooms were great when you were with another family or had a helper in there as this led to such a positive environment”

In August 2012, although we only had 18 children taking part during that week , we were among the largest of the YRS centres. The experiences during the week really made me evaluate the approaches I was using in my own teaching and develop new ways of supporting childrens’ learning. I remember that in the days following the event, I was determined that the following year we would have even more children and adults taking part to increase the levels of access and opportunity to all.

Changes for YRS 2013 I knew that if we were to attract a larger audience of experienced young coders as well as aspirational coders that we would need to change a few things, we would need to:

  • acquire a larger venue, capable of accommodating up to 70+ children (and adults)
  • source a centrally located venue so that children from across the North West could attend by rail, bus etc.
  • garner support from more adult supporters/mentors, ie. teachers and college/university students
  • promote the event to schools and families across the region

Location The local university in Preston (UCLan) seemed the ideal location, especially if we could also enlist the support of students from the university. UCLan is served by many bus routes and is only a 6 minute walk from the railway station. I managed to persuade Northern rail to sponsor rail tickets with the intention of attracting participants from all across the North West of the UK, especially to enable those who could not afford the rail fare to attend the event.

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“After my children had mastered most of the skills, they got to teach others and this kept them engaged and learning for longer. They came home enthused to try more when previously they hadn’t been that interested.”

Choosing a Venue On my early reconnaissance trips I tried to source the best spaces that UCLan could provide to suit our needs. I noticed that the university library was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and during holiday periods it was particularly quiet. The library had suites of group study rooms that might make ideal bases for each team of our junior developers to use. After a series of friendly, supportive meetings with staff at UCLan, we managed to secure permission to use the library building.

Planning We booked two dates for taster events that we called #MakerParty Hack Jams. #MakerParty is a worldwide festival of coding parties all about creating cool things on the web with free tools. We listed our events on the Maker Party site, in fact, I think we were the first events to be listed on there. We also booked the second week in August to enable us to host a larger centre for 2013 Young Rewired State Festival of Code.

I knew there would be a lot more organisation involved, so I enlisted some enthusiastic teachers from other schools to lend their support. Over the next few months we put plans in place to ensure some of the following. We needed to:

  • assess the risks to children using the facility and minimise these
  • arrange access to the university’s computer network and WiFi for our partcipants
  • plan how we would use the various spaces
  • put plans in place for the activities
  • recruit teachers and other adults as volunteers
  • promote the event to children, families, teachers etc across the region

We held regular planning meetings in the university library on Saturday mornings as we developed our plans in the lead up to the events.

Day of the Event Then on 29th June we opened the doors for our first Hack Jam #MakerParty. We had (secretly) hoped that the interest levels would be quite low for the first event while we found our feet. We set up a registration page so that we could monitor the numbers of people attending and capture emails for contacting people. The Lancashire Science Festival was also taking place on the campus on the same day, we agreed early on to join efforts with them. This meant  that we had a lot of interested people coming in to spend a few hours with us. In total we had 150 people taking part in our first Hack Jam event. We’ve got a photo gallery you can look at here.

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“It was a great opportunity to learn about computing and how web pages are constructing in a non-threatening fun environment”

Since the library building is so large and difficult for visitors to navigate around, we placed large signs around to direct people.

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We had prepared our Hack Jam Guide (instruction sheet) which we issued to everyone on arrival with information about what the day was about and how they could get the maximum value from the event, expectations etc. This guide was very useful, as it meant we could send the participants straight off to engage in activities as soon as they arrived rather than wait around for us to be ready. We have adopted the mantra “Play nice, Hack for good, Share freely” as the approach to underpin all our activities.

In the main, the activities we used were all based around the excellent webmaker resources from Mozilla. We made a lot of use of Hackasaurus X-ray Goggles as well as Mozilla Thimble. Some groups started working with Popcorn as well.

We had originally intended to base activities around Raspberry Pi computers as well (we’ve got a number from the Google sponsored initiative) but we were worried that because we only had about 6 mentors and 150 participants that we would not be able to resource this adequately. We did receive a lot of requests about Raspberry Pi, so we ran some short sessions as well.

Once we had most of our participants registered and started on activities, we held a briefing session for our adult mentors to share what our aims for the day were and to issue our guidelines on safety and child protection.

I asked the participants to share some of their outcomes here in this gallery so that others could see what they had created.

Evaluations – My bright idea was to send out electronic feedback forms using Google forms after the event as it would make collating and analysing feedback a little easier. Well it did, but the returns were very low. Although paper forms are more cumbersome, the advantage you have is that you can pretty much make people fill them in there and then. You can read a summary of the feedback from our first event here. I’ve included all of the comments, not just the complimentary ones in the hope that others can learn from our experiences.

We’ve now held quite a few events within a variety of different contexts, different audiences and settings and will be soon anouncing more plans for even more events around the UK. More to follow…. 🙂

IMG_7621“My seven year old sister used Hackasaurus to change the homework rules on her school website to say that only boys have to do homework.”

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