Code is just as important as reading and writing.

That’s according to Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, which organized the Kids & Tech Hack Jam in Toronto this past weekend.

“(Code) is a literacy we all need in the 21st Century,” said Surman, whose foundation is a non-profit organization promoting openness, innovation and participation on the Internet.

The Hack Jam was a part of Mozilla's Summer Code Party, which will include over 400 events this summer, all of which are aimed at teaching kids how to make things on the web with code.

“We want kids to know that the web is something they can shape and change,” he said. “The web is more like a musical instrument than a television -- you make things, not consume things. We want kids to know that.”

Held in the Mozilla Community Space at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, the event took the form of a so-called Hive Pop-Up, which involves a number of different stations where kids have the opportunity to work on different projects run by different organizations.

Kids were able to hack open toys to see how they worked and make new toys out of them, make stop-action films, prototype apps, write, make crafts, design games and build websites, among other activities.

Heather Payne, founder of Ladies Learning Code, helped organize the event.

“We're creating a space where kids can feel free to pursue their interests, and try things they've never done before,” said Payne, whose own organization is a not-for-profit working to empower everyone to learn basic, beginner-level programming and other technical skills.

Gamercamp, the Toronto Public Library, TIFF and TVOKids.com were among the organizations participating.

TVOKids.com had the kids working on the design of a new online game called Little Big City, where kids collaborated to keep a fictional city healthy.

“We’re getting kids to conceptualize and build a city they’d want to live in,” said Jessica McLaughlin, manager of TVOKids.com. “We learn so much from interacting and testing ideas with kids. Parents can take comfort that we consider kids first when building out new games and interactive features.”

Kids were asked to draw and use different objects, like stickers, blocks, and fake grass, to create their cities. Game cards were used to interrupt the creation and make kids think about how to build a city, said McLaughlin. “For example, a card might say there is a fire in their city and ask them what they need to do,” she said. “If the kids haven’t drawn or built a fire hall or fire engines, they’ll realize that a city needs these items for protection.”

Mozilla organized the event in an effort to build Toronto’s contribution to the Hive Learning Network. These networks, already established in New York and Chicago, are coalitions of youth-serving organizations dedicated to transforming the learning landscape, creating new opportunities for youth to explore their interests, develop new skills and follow their passions through the educational application of digital media technology.

These networks collaborate on projects leveraging digital tools around youth interests from science, art and social justice to filmmaking, hip-hop and skateboarding.

 

Core beliefs of a Hive Learning Network:

  • School is not the sole provider in a community’s education system
  • Youth need to be both sophisticated consumers and active producers of digital media
  • Learning should be driven by youth’s interests
  • Digital is the glue and amplifier for connected learning experiences
  • Out-of-school time spaces are fertile grounds for learning innovation
  • Organizations must collaborate to thrive