In the past six weeks we have been socially responsible by volunteering in the Mashup Academy, with the purpose of filling in the gap in technology education. Together with Stichting Reckoning we kicked-off the program with ten bright second grade kids of the Comenius Lyceum in Amsterdam. All very motivated to plunge into technology knowledge. And they sure did some resume building here! Also for aFrogleap it was a learning experience. Knowing things and having the expertise of doing something well because it's simply what your work is all about, is something totally different than reproducing these skills and teaching them to others. Learning by doing and putting it into practice to find out what works and what not. In the past couple of weeks we prepared some lessons to teach the kids some skills of the different disciplines we work in. But perhaps more importantly, the program hopefully has challenged and triggered them to start thinking about what they want to do in their further education and future job... We hope that with the Mashup Academy we could have a positive impact on helping them to know more about technology in business and to get them better prepared for the work force. And maybe they are not so much into technology after all. But learning by eliminating certainly is another way to find out and knowing what you do like.
What skills could we teach them?
week 1: We started off the first lesson with introducing the students to the world of mobile and the work of our agency aFrogleap. By learning how to brainstorm about different topics using mind mapping tools, we want them to think about the meaning and purpose of apps. We asked them about their favourite apps, which we categorized by theme. For us a great way to find out what kids of their age find interesting in an app. A blank piece of paper should invite you to write down all your great ideas, right? The students worked together in groups to get familiar with the process of creating an app idea concept.
week 2: At aFrogleap we work in multi-disciplinairy teams. That means that a number of people with all different roles are involved in the team. We introduced them to some of these roles, so that the students could have a glimpse of what might be an interesting direction to specialize in for their future jobs. In this week's class Anna and Noor taught the students about the mobile senses. How does your smartphone help you to do things more easily? We showed them some examples of apps where the 'senses' of the phone, such as the microphone, the location and the camera were smartly used in order to address the context of the user. Working on their own mobile app idea, this gave them a better understanding of what functionalities can be included in their app. And that was a good preparation for the following week's task of visualizing their app idea.
week 3: And that's where Michiel came into play: visual design and sketching wireframes. The important lesson of this week is creating a user-centric design for your app. The 'user is king'. And the question, 'Does your grandma understand how to use your app?', helped the students think in the right direction about relevancy and the user context. An app has to guide its user, so the kids also have to think about the purpose of their app and keep in mind the needs of their target group while sketching. Michiel showed them a great example of an app that he likes a lot: Kitchen stories. This app has a simple user interface, that supports the usability of the app. Beautiful photos and supportive instruction videos make the app more appealing, with the purpose of making you hungry and getting you in the mood for cooking. The kids suggested to add the feature to share your cooking results (even if it would go wrong ;)) so that you can learn from other users. Interesting feature! The sketches drawn in this class form the basis of next week's class to digitalize the sketches.
week 4: So, the students were divided in two teams and have come up with an app idea. The first team wants to create a multiplayer mobile game called 'Prepare For Battle'. Team two came up with a clever concept of a 'Clothes Weather and Style' app to give you personal and relevant advice on what clothes to wear on a day like this. Hugo was today's teacher who taught them some basics about mobile app design with the web-based design tool canva.com. The students could make a start with designing their own app idea. Hugo showed them the importance of the use of colors and fonts which makes your work recognizable as a designer. He also learned them about the specific typographies that are more appropriate for mobile. Canva was a good first introduction to a design tool. Now that the students have their idea and design ready, they can present it to our developer Paul as a briefing and follow up for taking over the project.
week 5: Our backend developer Paul has taught the kids the basics of programming in the fifth class. We started with a fun 'wool exercise' to simulate the complicated infrastructure which is needed to connect data behind every "seemingly" simple user story. By letting the user in the center performing several user stories, a web of 'data' was created. This in order to find out how some of your favorite apps are used and connected to each other. In this sense the kids got a little insight in the complexity of technology behind the simple idea of using an app, with the focus on user stories. Their idea and design were presented to Paul in English. At first, they were a bit shy but excited after all and the overall experience was great. You never know if they will end up working in an international working environment. So presenting their work in English was a great exercise.
week 6: This was already the final lesson of standing in front of the class at the Comenius Lyceum. Continuing with learning more about programming the students were asked to inspect elements and the HTML code behind their favorite website. Trying to 'hack' the Facebook and Google page by changing the colors and adding some buttons, Paul could show his magic! After that, it was up to the kids to write HTML code themselves using www.w3schools.com. They started to edit their own webpage in the online HMTL-editor and gained their first HTML skills. Some of the kids learned quickly and it became clear to us there were some naturally talented future developers present!
At the end of aFrogleap module within the Mashup Academy we asked the student about their experiences during these six weeks. At aFrogleap we also work by doing retrospectives with the teams, in order to evaluate the process and learn from the things that could be done better or differently. In these past six weeks we can say that sketching and designing were their most favorite activities... They were very motivated to learn something that's normally not offered to them in the school's curriculum. We hope that we inspired them by sharing our knowledge and skills. But most importantly, we hope that they realize that work can be something that you really love to do. We think we gave them some sparks of why we love mobile and showed them that if you like what you do, you will finish your day of work full of energy.