Phase Two: Commenced

Registration for the after school programs is open, as of five minutes ago. I am about to enter into the state of constant anxiety as I check and check again for a new email, hoping that the title is tagged with the phrase “ASP – Fall.”

This weekend is the time for proper promotion. I know how people found out about the summer camp, but we have only half of those resources this time around, and so I feel as if I should actually let the community know about this instead of talking about it all the time and hope people are talking about us.

I’ve spent the past few months looking around the internet for a group of people, of whom also call themselves a hackerspace, who are doing the same thing as us. It would make me, as a class coordinator, feel a lot better if I knew someone else did it first, but I really don’t feel that’s the case. All Hands Active is the first hackerspace to do alternative learning in a DIY class environment.

This is intimidating, exhilarating, and beautiful to me. Strange thing is, this isn’t even my passion. I view this as a necessity. Our type of organization cannot sit idly by and wait for the right people to walk in our doors. We can’t make the things we want to make without wondering how the roof is still over our heads and what is powering our computers, soldering irons, and sewing machines. We can’t appeal to the same crowd, who is our own age or older, without thinking of the next generation who will replace us.

I want to give these kids a better chance that I had growing up. I want them to remember when they learned how to bend the world to their whim. Every community is an open source project. Everyone can make an imprint, make their lives easier, and express their passions in an effort to ignite the dreams in their fellow beings. When the world revolves around technology, typewriters no longer get a say. When children of the age of nine are writing smartphone applications and gamers are finding the secret to unlocking a cure to AIDS, something has to change. I find it sad that these things are headlines. I don’t want them to have the same excuse that I did. “I didn’t know” is no longer valid.

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End of Week 1-Begin Week 2: ENGAGE!!!

I didn’t get nearly as much stuff done as I wanted to this weekend. Then again, some really awesome stuff happened though! We pretty much fully planned out our entire after-school programs for the school year, so I’m super excited about that. Jaime will be headlining the more crafty classes, one being a sort of “Make & Take” and the other focusing on basic 3D printing and using the laser cutter. Charlie and I will be doing a more focused version of the Young Gamers Summer Camp, focusing on cooperative competitive video games. I would like to do an Arduino class, but I fear I may not have the time to learn as much as I would need to in order to properly teach the class.

If I do end up being confident enough in my skill to teach it though, I would really emphasize on learning how to teach yourself. People are scared to look up new information. I am included in my rather broad statement. In all seriousness though, I think that is the most important skill we could have, and the point of every cliche quote about not being afraid of failure and seizing the day gets lost because most people can’t look between the lines and apply that to themselves, they just say, “Oh man, that sounds so deep!”

The question is, how does one teach someone how to teach themselves? I guess you can teach discipline and patience, and also ways to obtain information. You can teach people about courage and self-awareness and hope that they will become better people for it, but that’s the thing with people, isn’t it? You can’t really know whether you did your job if that’s what you’re trying to teach.

One thing I can work on in this class is advancing with the basic curriculum of course, which is teaching them how to program, but one thing I really want to work on is putting certain people in leadership roles. We have a few students that think they would be good leaders, but they don’t know how to follow. Then we have a couple calm and collected students who don’t ever get a word in the conversation, let alone get a chance to lead the group towards a goal. This group needs work, and I have one week to do it. I have my work cut out for me, but this is awesome. I’m really excited to be doing this, and I really hope the kids and parents are having fun with this.

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TIL: Teaching 6 energetic 10-ish year olds is exhausting. I like how I was saying two days ago, “Yeah, I’m gonna document everything we do and all important interactions everyday, I’m gonna blog about it all the time, and I’m also going to let parents know everything that’s going on!”

Yeah… no. I don’t remember a time were I was more exhausted. Everyone in the class has really started to get along, which is awesome, and the only disagreements that happen now are when things actually happen instead of  two or more people that happen to not like each other.

Today I noticed that the two kids that started as mortal enemies on the first day are now sitting next to each other regularly when we gather for group discussions and lectures now. I find it hilarious.

Also, I was really proud of myself that I successfully explained the difference between talking and communicating to one of the brothers in the class who had gotten angry at his younger sibling. The fight started over nothing, which apparently is a really important subject to pre-teens, and had almost turned into a physical confrontation. His way of handling that one was to try withdrawing from the group to go sulk by himself during the time set aside for lunch. We then talked, I might have threatened that I was going to tell his parents that he was being a crabby-pants and wasn’t cooperating, and then he was very responsive to the idea of having an actual conversation.’

It satisfies me that, even though I have had no formal educational training on educating younglings, I am still able to get by and make this class enjoyable. I are proud of myself.

TIL: (Days 2 through 4)

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Day 1: How Do I Reach These Keeeeds?

Of course we have a few rambunctious ones, but for the most part, these are good kids. They are all at the age where they do things and don’t really notice the repercussions of them. It can be horrifying and hilarious all in the same 30 second. I find myself listening to every word they say, just so I can make sure they aren’t being little jerks without realizing it, but all has been well so far. It’s pretty awesome, this age bracket, due to their minds still being able to mold and shape and form new opinions. They aren’t settled in their likes and dislikes yet. They can still experience things with an open mind.

The dynamics of the group are awesome and unpredictable at times. We have a few kids that want to be the center of attention, and of course you get attention by being loud. On the other hand, we have some really quiet ones that have opinions and plenty of them, but never get a chance to even talk in a discussion unless you quiet everyone else first. One of the goals of this class is to get everyone out of their element and make followers into leaders, and teach the leaders to stand down every once in awhile.

I don’t know if it was the whole not getting enough sleep or what, but day one was completely mentally draining. I’m about halfway done with day two and I feel the same way, even though I got enough sleep and actually ate breakfast this time. I think it might just be that dealing with energetic people for 5 hours a day makes me exhausted, in a good way of course.

This is really fun, and I can already see how kids are going to better themselves from it. I can’t wait to see what it’s like as the days go by.

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Things are happening!

The first ever AHA summer camp is about to start in two hours and I couldn’t be more excited. Also a little nervous and scared, and by a little, I mean a lot. To my knowledge, and the knowledge of my immediate peers, we might very well be the first Hackerspace in at least the United States to offer summer camps. Even if we aren’t, this is a historic day for All Hands Active, and it’s hard not to feel the pressure from it all. I mean, how many tries do you get to make something successful in an organization before you start letting people down?

I’m going to try to not think about that and just focus on making this the most awesome class AHA has ever had.

1. 2. 4. 8. 16…

One thing I love most about being part of a hackerspace, or the maker revolution in general, is that you actually see the process of learning right in front of you. It’s not a whole bunch of students sitting in a classroom, blankly staring at the writting on the board. It’s when you have both kids and adults explain something they just learned to someone new to the group, and you hold your breath and listen to them, making sure they get everyting right, trying really hard not to finish their sentences…

And when all they need is that one word, and the whole concept comes together for both of the newly learned… it’s that AHA! moment. With the kids in the after school programs we do, high fives are commonly exchanged and that’s the moment you know something got to them. What’s even more awesome after that is that those kids are so happy with themselves that they run over to other groups of kids and tell them about this new awesome thing they learned… and inside of 5 minutes, everyone knows the differences between a DC and a stepper motor.

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Education Hacking

So today a few of us went to Bright Futures, which is a program based out of Eastern Michigan University that goes to “At-Risk” middle and elementary schools around the area and offers students after-school or summer program options. It’s a pretty awesome organization and is the inspiration for me to do the summer camps and other kid orientated stuff in our own space. Well, a few weeks ago, I went to the first class I had been to in about a year. A few weeks passed and that brings us to today. Day 1 of our triumphant leader being on vacation and all 4 of us had to wake up at the crack of dawn and go teach kids.

So in today’s class, I noticed there was a kid that no one wanted to be in a group with, so I automatically put him with my group. I know all too well how it feels to be picked last for gym class, lab partners, and other such group activities. It didn’t take long for me to understand why no one wanted to be in a group or teach him. He didn’t understand directions the same way a s a lot of kids. When I had to explain it another way, the other kids sighed deeply out of boredom and frustration of having to be in the same group as him. It was challenging, not only finding a way to get the point of the lesson across to him, but not to alienate him from the rest of the group, or spend all of my time with him and not the others in my group.

We taught the kids about breadboards and motors, and of course there were a few times that I had to grab the attention of the room due to kids being loud, craving attention, or getting distracted by others, but it was awesome. In the car on the way back we discussed the students that were easy to teach, and why we thought the more difficult ones were so hard. It’s interesting to see how people react to having to shift teaching styles so many times in an hour. It’s also interesting hearing adults saying stuff like “Yeah, I hate teaching so-and-so, he’s so difficult.” I have done this before too, but I don’t think I’ve ever avoided putting a child in my group because I would get annoyed. I would love to record how I teach, I think it would be very enlightening.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think any of us (maybe one of us) have any sort of formal training in the educating of children. In a lot of ways, I think that’s a good thing. We don’t have a whole bunch of jaded, underpaid, beaten-down-by-the-budget-focused-school-board instructors telling us how we should handle a classroom full of minds to mold. We don’t worry about tests or getting things right. We don’t say “You’re doing it wrong.” We guide them into the learning process, and there’s no manual for that. I’m not saying that the system that teachers use doesn’t work, I’m just saying it doesn’t work for everyone.

In a lot of ways, we have no idea what we’re doing, and it’s kind of amazing that way. We learn alongside the kids we instruct, and I look at it as we’re on equal grounds in two different sports. It’s the true Hackerspace philosophy, people teaching each other. It’s organic and true. It turns facts and education into an experience, and experiences never leave you, even if you forget how to do the thing you were taught in the first place.

In conclusion, I love teaching kids, but I don’t ever want to get a degree in it.

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Tea: Earl Grey: Hot!

ImageToday was Captain Picard Day, and in honor of the best Captain that Starfleet has ever had, I made some Earl Grey tea, worked my ass off for the greater good, and also made a few of these awesome TNG communicator badges. It was a pretty good day, seeing as I got to explain to people that there is an actual day devoted to Picard, how people translated the stardate to a more modern way of keeping time, and also the episode number and plot. I always enjoy showing off my Trekkie side, I will admit.

Other awesome stuff happened today though. A few of my fellow AHAers went to the Ann Arbor District Library here in downtown and taught people how to use Google Sketchup. It was kind of really awesome because I had about 30 minutes more experience than everyone in the class with the software. It was fine though, things went smoothly, and people taught themselves. It was a lot of fun.

Doing things like that makes me happy, not only because we’re teaching people, but I’m pretty sure All Hands Active is the only hackerspace going out to the community and educating kids on their own. I mean, helping First Robotics and holding classes is one thing, but actually starting their own summer camps or doing classes at the local library? I think not. If they are, we haven’t heard about them yet.

I may be sleep deprived, but I dig my life. It’s beautiful and awesome.

City Stations

Today we begin building the prototypes for the new stations that will be replacing the Cube. I hear that there are some other designs in the works, but so far, mine is the only one people have seen, so I guess we are pursuing it. It’s weird and I’m not a pro, so that’s why you guys don’t get a picture of it right now.

I’m anxious about the construction of these workstations. They need to be conducive to playing video games both as a group and solo, and also be versatile enough to be workstations, anticipating every need one would have while being all Maker-like. The design has to promote this and bring it out of people just by sitting there. I know jack-squat about design.

Also, I’m going to be building one of the stations today, just as a prototype, but still. I just really hope other people show up to help. Taking my little sketch made in the middle of class and turning it into something physical, it’s intimidating.

Yet again… I have no idea what the hell I”m doing. I dunno how I feel about that.

A Break from the Past for a Little Present

As the title says, I’m gonna pause a little bit on the story of how I got here to talk about what’s been happening recently. On top of going back to school, which is a blend of an epic battle in which I am the underdog and at the same time being the most educated person in the class, I have been tolling away at planning for the Summer Camps I’m putting on. Everyday I find new ways of learning just how ill-equipped I am for the things I choose to undertake. I have no clue on how to put on real classes, or to run a business, or to write a freaking lesson plan.

Don’t let that deter you from thinking that the things I’m planning won’t end up being awesome, though. I’m learning how to do all these things so fast, you would think I was going to school for this. I have many people around me that can’t do it for me, but can walk me through it, tutor me, and give me encouragement, which I couldn’t be more grateful for. This is what I love about All Hands Active. This is why I fight for it and devote all of my energies to the cause. I’m not as great at it as I would like to be, but I’m getting there.

It would be awesome if I could do this before the fall, but my goal by next winter is to be so awesome at kids classes down here at AHA that we can afford an office. It would have to be slightly off-site, (got my sights set on Nickel’s Arcade) but the sunlight would be good, and having a nice, quiet, professional looking meeting place would be good all around for the organization, especially for meeting with potential funders and contacts.

Also, I wanna wear pencil skirts dammit!