Mozilla’s Maker Parties Teach Web to the World

Pittsburgh’s Mozilla Maker Party was one of thousands of parties held around the globe this summer teaching web literacy to average citizens through hands-on maker projects.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he invasive Japanese knotweed has become a tricky ecological problem in Pennsylvania. But at the Pittsburgh Maker Party on August 2, Albert Pantone showed kids how to mix the pesky weed with cotton and soda ash, eventually transforming it into handmade paper.

The Pittsburgh Maker Party brought a dozen organizations together at the Society for Contemporary Craft and let more than 200 kids and parents get their hands dirty making seed bombs, creating mobile apps, or shooting marshmallows in the air with a bike pump.

It was only one of more than 2,000 Mozilla Maker Parties held in 368 cities around the globe since mid-July, which aim to “teach the web on a global scale through hands-on learning and making.” The events range in participants, size, activities, and resources available. What they have in common is the goal of equipping people with digital literacy and web skills so they can understand and help mold the web, not just consume it.

To do that, the events often teach partygoers Mozilla’s Webmaker tools like Thimble, which lets users write HTML and CSS on the left of the screen and instantly preview their work on the right. Another tool, X-Ray Goggles, let people peek behind any website and check its code. At the Pittsburgh maker party, the Remake Learning Digital Corps helped kids in attendance “hack” the New York Times’ website and replace the headlines with their own.[one_third][blockquote]In Cape Town, South Africa, Teen girls learned to code with HTML and CSS. Then, they design websites for local community organizations. [/blockquote][/one_third][two_third_last] “In English, ‘learning’ can sound like as passive a verb as they come, yet learning is the most all-encompassing, mind-devouring, time-consuming, and dare I say intoxicating experience one may have,” Ani Martinez, head of the Remake Learning Digital Corps, wrote last month in a post about the maker party. “That’s what gives Maker Parties their vibe and why they are such the success they’ve become.”

The maker parties’ success also stems from how easily organizers can share detailed event reports, tweets, and videos with other makers around the world. The posts inspire ideas for future parties and are nearly perfect examples of the body of collective knowledge that makes the internet so powerful.[/two_third_last]

Here’s a handful of other amazing Maker Parties that taught people about the web, its inner workings, and the power of using it to create:

  • The Brooklyn College Community Partnership hosted a nine-day open house in the first drop-in teen makerspace in Brooklyn. The days were packed with 3D modeling, inventing contraptions that could save people on a deserted island, and debating what should go into a maker manifesto. At the end of the event, kids and educators reimagined their makerspace and built intricate prototypes of a dream space that included hydroponic gardens and a bamboo lounge.
  • The Code4CT program teaches teen girls in Cape Town, South Africa, how to code with HTML and CSS. Then, they design websites for local community organizations. At the Code4CT Maker Party, the girls each brought a friend and passed their new skills on to her.
  • The internet connection dropped out at the Maker Party in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. But the party continued offline as participants discussed how the web functions, voiced their concerns about privacy, and brainstormed other problems—like scams and malware—they find online.
  • At Coworking Monterrey in Mexico, youth got to 3D print their own Maker Party logos and crowns, and they even saw how it might be possible to 3D print a person. They took some great photos in the process.
  • The village of Gangadevipally, India, has no internet connectivity. That didn’t stop Meraj Imran from bringing a Maker Party to the village on a motorcycle to teach awareness about the web to rural families. He used charts to describe HTML tags and 3D prototypes to demonstrate how the internet works.
  • In San Francisco, volunteers and employees of nonprofits got free HTML training to make their websites and newsletters more effective through Aspiration’s Maker Party.
  • At MozFest East Africa in Kampala, Uganda, more than 30 Mozilla Webmaker mentors taught more than 200 kids how to “hack” with Webmaker tools. Mark Surman, the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, recently wrote about the party in Uganda and explained the challenge of teaching web literacy with both depthand scale.

“We’ll see more people rolling up their sleeves to help people learn by making,” Surman wrote. “And more people organizing themselves in new ways that could massively grow the number of people teaching the web. If we can make happen this summer, much bigger things lay on the path ahead.”

Published September 11, 2014