The Toronto Awesome Foundation‘s April prize-winner, “Cardboard Fort Night,” came to beautiful duct-taped and beer-soaked fruition last night. The creativity and paper-cuts on display were awe-inspiring, as you’ll see from the event photos. Huge congratulations to Sherwin, aka Inconsolable Cat, for his awesome event-wrangling and coveted Lifetime Awesome Achievement Award. (Sherwin alone contributed 30% of the April project submissions — the man is a machine.)
Like a cat, I think my favourite toy was always plain brown cardboard boxes. The holy grail when I was a kid was to get those discarded refrigerator boxes, because they were so big and creamy smooth. You got the feeling that you could make anything out of that. The idea behind this night is to bring back that feeling.
Judging by all the smiles and ludicrous structures: mission accomplished!
Video is the lingua franca of our age. What if we could bring it into the classroom in exciting new ways? What if we made video social — collaborative, interactive, and linked to a wealth of deeper context and resources — instead of the traditional “TV in a box” experience? What if students could talk back to video, remixing and making it part of their own essays and art, instead of just passively consuming it?
That’s the possibility Mozilla’s new Popcorn video tool brings to the classroom. Popcorn allows users to turn boring old traditional video into dynamic “hyper-video” or “social video,” weaving in context and content from across the web. The educational opportunities for the tool are huge, from “video book reports” to dynamically exploring the solar system to turning every multimedia encounter into a chance to dig deeper, learn more and explore.
Testing Popcorn and Butter with kids
“Butter,” a new user-friendly web app in development, is designed to make Popcorn easy for non-technical audiences. But is it simple enough for 11 and 12-year-old students to use? That’s the experiment Kimberly Mercer’s Grade 6 class at Toronto’s Summit Heights school has been conducting this week, with a special visit from several members of the Butter development team.
Ms. Mercer’s class has been piloting the use of netbooks to facilitate 1-to-1 learning, and she’s been looking for challenging learning activities:
“I set about finding an innovative task for my group of talented and inquisitive young people. This search has ended, much to my delight, in a great big vat of ‘Butter.'”
Her students have been working in small groups on a range of topics — from electricity to biodiversity to aboriginals — and creating an interactive “Popcorn movie” for each. Students have been reviewing and submitting possible videos for “Buttering” on their class wiki.
Co-designed by kids, for kids
Not only are students using the software, they’re actively making it better. Part of the learning process involved filing bugs and making feature requests, collaborating with David Humphrey‘s team of Seneca College students, many of whom visited the classroom. The students’ feature requests are awesome, and underscore the huge value in this kind of co-designing and testing with learners. Sample feature requests include:
A built-in dictionary feature. To help define new or difficult terms in a video.
Soundtrack. “A soundtrack that plays music/ sounds of your choice. Muting the video may be optional.”
Skipping / omitting portions of the timeline. “We would like to be able to delete parts of the initial video, because if there is some useless talk at the beginning with this feature, than you will be able to get rid of it.”
Helping kids define and create the web
Baked into all of this is a more fundamental lesson — seeing the web and video not as something to be passively consumed, like TV, but as “magic ink” that we can make, play with, and use as a canvas for our own learning and self-expression. Or as Ms. Mercer puts it:
“The essence of this project is to empower this group of 11 and 12 year-olds to be part of the process of defining and creating the web…. Though daily communication with the [Butter] development team, it is my hope that the students will learn that the web is not a finished product to be consumed, but that it is a living, breathing, evolving reflection of those who interact with it.”
More on this project — including student work samples and ways to replicate the project in your own classroom — coming soon.
What would school look like if it was all about actively doing stuff — making, tinkering, building, exploring — instead of just passively learning about stuff? That’s the question the “Maker Kids” edition of TEDx Kids took up in Brussels last week. And the Mozilla Hackasaurus crew were there to bring web-making and hacking into the mix.
Sixty fired-up 10-year-olds got their hands dirty ina day of workshopsand mini-maker jams, spanning everything from building their own chairs to soddering to tinkering with Arduino to remixing their own hip hop singles. All carved into 45-minute blocks, approximating a crazy utopian school day from the future.
The event offered a taste of how the DIY maker spirit is revitalizing learning. There’s a growing sense that traditional education contains too much passive “book learning,” making it out of touch and dull. And that “hands-on learning” or “engaged learning” — learning by doing — works better. It’s what kids want, what parents want for their kids, and what innovative educators like Gever Tulley — who outlined the active learning philosophy behind his “Tinkering School” backstage at the TEDx event — are already providing.
Something’s up.It’s a diverse movement of youth, educators and edu-preneurs attacking the idea that learning has to be boring, difficult, or confined to school. And it represents a huge opportunity for the open web and Mozilla mission.