During the past Friday we had a lot of fun setting up a local hackathon in the main high school of a beautiful place called Blanes. We had the responsibility of motivating close to 250 young hackers with ages varying from 13 to 17 years old in the context of “the week of science”. And here I will tell you how amazing it was 🙂
So basically after our recent significant victories in the field of promoting technological vocations among the people of Catalonia (specially the young ones of Girona) our chances of reaching even more people are rising in a considerable way, which, I have to say I’m so proud of. So that leads us to the following situation: These days we are having a lot of requests made by schools, high schools and also some communities of organizing hackathons or introductory events on their place, for community building, for increasing the motivation of the members and also because they simply think we are cool 😛
So by the end of September we had a very special mission request of Cor de Maria high school. They wanted us to come on their place and organize some kind of event for motivating the students in the context of something called “the week of science” which basically consists on performing different activities related to enhancing the scientific curiosity on the students in the academic period of a week. The came to me personally so as I’m an energetic and enthusiastic person, specially on these cases I almost instantly answered yes, let’s talk about it! Then the requirements came up…
The event had to be organized for hosting about 250 students, had to be mostly hands on and the max budget for buying materials was 300EUR.
So we jumped right in a complex situation as we are used to host less people, have more time to prepare or have a little bit more of budget in larger events.
We started with the definition of the problem as mentioned before and our first point to focus on was the time we had directly related to the amount of participants of the event so we had to plan a strategy for dividing that big group into some reasonable sub groups, easy to manage with the volunteers we had. The ideal situation would have been to split the whole group in teams of 4 members as we use to do in the MLH related events but that was not the case as we did not had enough material and the students did not had enough tools / knowledge to work 100% by their selves. We decided to split those ~250 students in to 6 sub groups of ~40 hackers also, each group would be spitted in teams of 4 members.
Two important things when it comes to team-building in hackathons are diversity and team bonding. Creating a team with your best classmates may be fun sometimes and for sure a positive experience but it may also have some downfalls like classmates who know each other and simply want to spend all the time talking or not paying attention or the lack different skills needed to solve a problem. We decided to create teams of 4 members composed by students from 13 to 17 years so different ages and also different interests.
Now what to do with all those sub groups? We decided to create 6 spaces in the event to host one group per each:
- Electronics lab (arduino)
- Video game development (python OR gameMaker)
- Robotics lab (lego mindstorm)
- Music session
- Careers assistance
- Web development (html5+css)
Each space would be dedicated to its topic and managed by a couple of volunteers from our group and a couple of high school teachers to help with the logistics! You might wonder about the what the music session track was about? We basically brought an electric guitar into the classroom and started analyzing it’s sound signals through a special software while Bob, our local rock star was playing it. Such a really amazing way to get people into the wave.
Then asked the teams to choose a couple of tracks to spend their time on, switching on the middle of the day and we proceeded to make the final assigns
TRACK THE ATTENTION
Though I’m young, through the recent years I’ve spoken in some events with different kind of audiences and I have to say that one of the most exigent and challenging audiences is the community of young students. If you sound boring you will immediately notice as they will even start to talk each other instead of listening. So what does actually work
- Less talk and getting hands on quick
- Changing the language register and doing a little bit of “interpretation”
The first thing is pretty obvious, after talking with the younger ones I saw that things at high school were still working the same way they did back in my time when I was there, teachers talking all the time and students taking notes, eventually students doing fancy stuff if tablet computers. If you want to catch someones attention you must do something different than they are used to and it is known that we, humans learn the most when we are actually doing, rather than listening.
On the other hand as I said you may want to consider changing the register to address the young hackers. Use a less formal language, add some memes to your presentation or even better, don’t use a presentation at all and interpret the meme yourself.
I got all the attention when I entered to room screaming well who wants free pizza today??
You can figure out how it follows.
The cool thing about it is that you can extrapolate those concepts to an adult audience to maximize your impact on speeches and events just by doing some little adaptations according to the context.
LEAD BY TEACHING, LEARN BY DOING
Hands on stuff is kind of a guarantee of success. If you plan your resources well, you have the space and the materials you’ll have to do just a little push to the people and they will go all the way.
The key point here is to make sure that you have your material, almost everyone knows how to use at least +50% of the material you offer (like dev boards, laptops with ide’s, libraries, robots, whatever) and you have a plan B if something fails.
Well, what can actually fail? I will tell you what failed in our event. I was in charge of the game dev track. So as I was finishing my intro talk I was just saying: Ok so now we are going to open that IDE and start coding our game. And I’m not joking by that time we had a blackout of 15 minutes in the whole area. So what I intermediately did was to tell them that if you want to make a game you will need a good plot so they should start working on the whiteboards and design the structure and plot of the game, do some diagram and then move to coding it.
You need to be ready because these things happen. I have to say that the most successful tracks were the ones with more hands on content, that speaks for itself.
HOW TO BECOME A ROCKSTAR
People need motivation, all of us. Specially when you are at high school, you tend to think a lot about how boring a lot of stuff is and how pointless and useless it may be, which is an error you regret later in life. We must connect theory and practice through useful projects but we must also connect them with just-for-fun projects!
You can find science in every aspect of your life so at this point why don’t pick some concept that is attractive and entertaining and work on it through science?
That is exactly what our friend Bob did with his lesson in the physics and technology of an electric guitar. He spent the whole time playing some really cool records and showing the waves being generated on a screen next to him, doing small pauses between records to explain those waves, their behavior and so on. Did the students learnt a lot of physics? Clearly nope, but they ended the day charged with a huge interest for knowing more and more about physics, some of them were actually talking about how cool it would be to build their own guitar with a little help from us. That is what we must look for, specially during events, to get people interested and motivated not only during the event but also afterwards as there is a difference between entertainment and motivation.
ALL ABOUT CURIOSITY
History constantly teaches us that even a single person in the right time and place with a special idea can change the world. How to change the world? With a cure to a dangerous disease? By building rockets? With a million dollar company? Everything is possible and if you look to a crowd of hackers you never know who of them can be the next thought leader. There is a lot of potential out there and each person will walk milles if you show them a road thats interesting enough.
Motivation pushes people forward to accomplish certain specific goals which are defined based on a set of interests and the context but curiosity is more like a general attitude that one have to cultivate and can act like a general guide for facing different situations in life.
In the era we live, when we tend to delegate our common tasks to algorithms and automated systems in an exponential way as time passes. Repetitive, monotonous and boring tasks will become less and less relevant for us the humans that will make our lifes way easier but that will also challenge us as the remaining tasks will demand us to be creative, to do the thinks that machines will cannot do.
I personally think that we, as a generation, have a moral obligation to educate in creativity and that’s what I do whenever I have time to do it!
As usual thanks to all of my friends of Udgeeks/Promotec/dc170 for their time and effort it’s always a charm to help bringing more people in this amazing world of the technology. All aboard!
I really hope this will help other fellow hackers and organizers in their process of making more successful and fun events 🙂