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#teachtheweb, ya'll

#teachtheweb, ya'll

Written by Christina Cantrill
November 14, 2013

(Cross-posted from my In Community blog.)

I recently returned from my second Mozilla Festival — I was invited there with several colleagues to work on Mozilla’s #teachtheweb strand as a part of the National Writing Project’s partnership with Mozilla through our Educator Innovator work. And although also still slightly recovering from it, I was able to dive right back into #teachtheweb this side of the pond at this weekend’s Celebration of Writing and Literacy hosted by the Philadelphia Writing Project on Saturday.

At this event, Meenoo Rami and I organized a two hour connected learning hack-jam that we called “Remixing our Stories.” The immediate inspiration for this comes from a similar workshop that I did with Amy Stornaiuolo for the Philadelphia Writing Project’s Lighting Up the Common Core workshop series a few weeks back. But all this work really stems from some initial hack-jams organized at EduCon over the last couple of years by Meenoo and our colleague Chad Sansing.

You can read Amy’s reflections on her work at Our Hackjam: Hacking our Stories.

And the inspiration from Chad at Methods behind our #educon madness.

What I have found is the energy of these things is inspiring, and I think, essential. One teacher in our session who is a leading Teachers Action Group organizer and activist herself, said how “empowered she felt” after the session. I think the reason is that we are taking things that, as Chad suggests in his post, have common value and also “rules” that we then change/break/remake together, allowing ourselves to tap back into our own sense of individual as well as collective agency.

So what happened this weekend?

Well, inspired by my own recent experience with Amy’s storybook version of a hack, Meenoo and I asked the group of educators who came to our session what brought them to the session and also what they already knew about “remix”. Then we asked everyone to remix a set of picture books we had brought with the other materials they found in the room. We didn’t provide examples, we didn’t try to fix or change or add to their definitions of remix — we just wanted to get all the current knowledge out into the room. The only additional encouragement we offered was to think about remix in relation to form as well as content.

They dove right in!


From this analogue beginning where folks made their remixes and then shared them with the group (we asked them to highlight their process and any new insights they had into the idea of remixing), we then moved into a conversation about digital remix.

To kick off this segment, we first watching a Popcorn-made multimedia video created by the Radio Rookies called Stop and Frisk. We picked this piece again this time because a) it is, and it’s source material is, created entirely by youth, b) the content is so relevant and of interest to so many of the youth that urban teachers work with and c) it itself is a powerful remix of an original podcast that Radio Rookies produced for WNYC radio broadcast.

Drawing from the inspiration of this mentor text then, which inevitably ends up drawing lots of ideas about how to work with these tools and/or this topic in classrooms, we rolled a laptop cart into our workshop room and everyone logged into to take a look at the webmaker tools.

We encouraged folks to start where ever they wanted to start, but also highlighted XRay Goggles as a good starter point for those who were totally unfamiliar with code. We did a quick group X-Ray activity here and then pointed folks to a couple activities they could try if they wanted, including the hot-off-the-press draft of Critical Web Literacy created by our writing project colleague Stephanie West-Puckett.

Although time was against us on most of this, everyone had a chance to at least do one successful digital remix/hack. The teacher who said she felt empowered is the one who made this:


Remix your own here!

So how does this connect to #Mozfest and to the larger work of #teachtheweb?

First, I am struck over and over again by the power of the hack-jam methods that Chad has outlined as a way to support opening up a range of conversations and new work. The piece that feel so important to me within this are the opportunity to do some analogue play before venturing into something new and digital, the opportunity to play itself!, and the encouragement to break the “rules” to make something new and something fresh.

This breaking the rules piece is what I describe as the “punk rock” nature of this work (I’m giving away my age here in this comment). To me it’s so important though because it helps us tap into a certain aspect of our own agency within an analogue and familiar context that we then transfer into the less familiar digital zone. Over the last year I’ve seen this unfold a few times all with the same power — during a toy hack that Stephanie led as part of #clmooc, a childhood game hack activity Meenoo and I led during a short session with youth media specialists, during a Tech-to-Go Hack Jam at last year’s NCTE that Chad and our colleague Andrea Zellner ran, etc.

Second, I continue to think about the modular pieces that are so important in the development of #teachtheweb materials. The elements that I notice can be powerful to pull together in my own work with adult educators include:

  • Examples of remixes by youth that can be used as mentor texts — these should come in the range of formats, done by a range of ages, and include a range of content.
  • Fun, playful starter makes across all the tools that engage a range of interests and levels of experience with webmaking.
  • Remixable activities (not necessarily “kits” but more like activities and sets as curations) that educators have developed that pull these together around some shared activities and/or content goals.

And then third, I love the remixable nature of all this work and the potential for remixable curriculum as a result — or at least remixable curricular elements. Chad talks about this in his own post-Mozfest reflection …

I’m even more interested in Thimble as a storehouse for web native curriculum – especially for product- and tool-making around participatory learning and inquiry.

… and I love the way that he takes this on and really does make his work available to others here too.

What I keep wondering then, is how to pull these things together … not necessarily as teaching kits which is kind of hard-coded manual process (as lovely and remixable as they might be), but as related elements that I might use together at any one time. A little mini-curation or gallery of items that I could remix and reuse among each other in different ways. Hmmmm. …

Finally, as I wrap up this post I am also reading what my colleagues wrote in their reflections (Peter Kittle here/Chad here) and I am struck by all the moments where we lifted our heads and connected with those around us and what it is that we found. #teachtheweb is certainly about creating curriculum and modularized content, I believe, and I also think there is a role of #researchtheweb and #learntheweb that those teaching the web need to engage with constantly and at events like these.

For example, the other floors of #Mozfest provide such rich landscapes of opportunities and possibilities for teaching and learning — from Open Science and Open News, to the physical web, games, web privacy and data etc. — as well as the others working on activities around us on kits to support disaster relief, etc. Take a look at just a cross-section and sampling of some of what was made there. Wow!

From what I have come to know about educators is that they can make important and relevant curriculum for youth out of all of it given their own chance to engage with the original work and content … and I also believe that educators, with their lens on learning, can provide essential insights into other work beyond specifically education-focused resources. So that also leaves me wondering how best to support that kind of cross-fertilization and imagination space down the line.

So much and so exciting! And so thankful for the space and opportunity to ask these questions and explore alongside my colleagues as well as the larger open web community. My commitment #teachtheweb in these punk rock ways couldn’t be stronger.