I spent Saturday representing Hive NYC and Mozilla Webmaker at the New York Hall of Science’s Learning Lab Pop-Up and it was wonderfully surreal at times. I spent five transformative years at NYSCI. I worked on some incredible projects, sharpened many of my ideas about digital tools in education and worked with a plethora of talented, warm and dedicated people.
In Hive, we talk about networked learning constantly. At times it can seem ephemeral and elusive, but at NYSCI I experienced a heady and visceral example of how it works on the ground. I experienced the network both from an individual view (cross-pollination of jobs, people and ideas) and how it works beyond individuals (diffusion of ideas, pathways for people and expanded participation).
Let me see if I can map this a bit. The event was part of NYSCI’s IMLS Learning Labs Grant. The Learning Lab idea is an attempt to spread the YOUmedia idea and practice. Here alone we see a network: Ideas and programs funded and championed by MacArthur’s Digital Media and Learning and including thought leaders like Mimi Ito (Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out), Nichole Pinkard (Digital Youth Network/YOUmedia) that have now manifested in two Hive NYC organizations (DreamYard YOUmedia, NYSCI) and inspiring others (Brooklyn Public Library’s Info Commons Space).
The event format, the “Learning Party” or “Pop-UP” was remixed by NYSCI from the model that Hive NYC and Mozilla have developed. The model is inspired in part by the professional hack jams and the informal learning practices Hive embodies. It wasn’t lost on me that we basically used the same space and staff that Jess Klein and I did when we collaborated on an early iteration of this model for the NYSCI/Hive Earth Day Hack Jam three years ago. Add to that the NYSCI team leveraging Hive NYC members and friends like World Up, Pixel Academy and Scratch, and it felt exactly what the Pop-Ups are supposed to feel like: A Hive Learning Network experience compressed into one physical space and a set amount of time that then feeds learning experiences back into the ecosystem.
All of this was housed in NYSCI’s new Maker Space which itself is a manifestation of a web of opportunities and energy, like being the east coast host/driver of World Maker Faire (of which Hive NYC has participated each year) and NYSCI’s commitment to a Making as Learning ethos.
The Maker Space itself is incredible and embraces a wide definition of making that feels deeply participatory. It also sits squarely on their exhibition floor, not separated or siloed from other experiences people are having in the science center (in this case a very cool, youth culture/interest-focused Tony Hawk Rad Science of skateboarding exhibition, you should definitely go and see it.)
The NYSCI Maker Space Buzzing
One place where Hive NYC has not been as successful as we had hoped, is in charting network provided pathways for youth to navigate and grow from experience to experience. Ideally these pathways are both self directed by youth and guided along the way by educators, mentors, teachers, organizations and parents. Saturday I saw an example of how these pathways are beginning to emerge and be represented by connected youth. Three teens who were involved in the Pop-Up were all Hive NYC Super Users! We need to surface and nurture more stories like these:
Ben learned about the event because he follows our various communication channels. Ben is a member of Rev—’s Pop Squad, and came with us to help Hive NYC be awesome at MozFest 2012. He jumped right in to help me facilitate Popcorn Maker mentoring at the Pop-Up. He even wrote about his experiences that day on the Maker Space blog.
Valeria, a long time NYSCI Explainer (I met her for the first time when she was 12 and was in our NYSCI podcasting after-school program) and lives in the local Corona, Queens community NYSCI sits. She was also on the first Hive NYC youth council which gave Hive our name (now a global brand), and on the planning committee for the third Emoti-Con Festival.
Sharon has participated in Hive NYC organization programs at Girls Write Now, Eyebeam, and Global Kids while also being on two youth councils, volunteered for Hive at Maker Faire, was our first Huffington Post Teen blogger and has done other youth reporting assignments for Hive NYC. She is now a Freshman at Columbia University and works at NYSCI on their awesome Explainer TV program.
Valeria, Ben and Sharon, Hive NYC Super Users!
The event was Connected Learning in action. The various activity stations were all programmed with themes that interest teens: hacking, music, games, making, viral videos, animation and all without a predetermined “path” or dictated way to choose which experiences to do. Some floated and then settled, some made a point of experiencing each station, and some like Philip, stayed at one station deep diving on “popping” an upcoming video game release video for almost four hours using Popcorn Maker.
Philip is popping some corn!
There was hang-out spaces that were comfortable and inviting. There was pizza, drinks and music. It was fun. Socializing ruled the afternoon, friends and siblings came together, new relationships were built (“I am in Manhattan but can use the subway, can we exchange Facebook pages so we can hangout?”) and it was truly a party.
The room was stocked with multi-generational adults from college-age mentors to informal educators to teachers and parents. Some of these were helping to run the Pop-Up and some were participants. I talked and interacted with public school teachers, parent volunteers, researchers, after-school community leaders, informal educators, makers and young adult mentors. It was the most visceral example of the Connected Learning Principles and the Mozilla Mentor Community that I have experienced recently.
So let me wind this up by saying that I am sure all of us experience confusion and doubt as we embark on this work. Are we making a difference? Are we talking and championing the right ideas and strategies? How do we stop talking about it and start doing it? By Friday afternoon I was sort of in a mini-existential crisis mode about all of this (aren’t we all by Friday at 6:15 PM?) and the NYSCI Learning Lab Pop-Up was just the bucket of cold water my soul needed to pick myself up and get back into the fight. So thank you Learning Labs Pop-Up for my late Valentine gift!