YRS 2012 took place five weeks ago at the time this blog entry was posted. This year I signed up again to be a mentor at the Young Rewired State (YRS) . Unlike my more technically savvy fellow mentors, the things I helped out with were nitty-gritty, trivial, but somehow important (well, I’d like to think that they were anyway) stuffs such as documenting / blogging the good time (and good time only) at MadLab, keeping people entertained by speaking to them, and providing feedback on their prototypes and mock presentations.
Compared to last year, the most notable difference this year was the larger numbers – the YRS Manchester Centre had recruited more pupils, more mentors and secured more resources. The Manchester YRS centre was the largest in the country, attracting 30+ pupils (the youngest Zack was aged 7) and 15+ mentors who were all very competent, supportive and committed (click here to meet the team). Lightening talks had been lined up all week long. Food (not only junk food but also healthy fruits and vegs) were supplied for the whole week. All of these contributed to materialising more than 15 projects (see a list of YRS projects on day 3 and the final awesome projects).
On the first day, I was co-coaching a girl of the age of 11 or 12 called Lara. She did not know where to start. To help her get going, I introduced the idea of open data, and showed her some examples of data visualisation. When she saw Wordle, her eyes were fixated on the visualisation of tag clouds immediately and wanted to do something similar with health or Olympics-related data. But here came the question about the availability and usability of data – she spent some time looking for immediately usable data, but found that it was not easy to get hold of the kind of data she wanted. Then, she was advised to go to IRC to ask for help. People did get back to her on the IRC channel, sending her to BBC and Scraperwiki‘s websites. But I guess it was too much for her having to look for data all by herself. Then, another mentor, the talented Ben Webb, introduced Guardian’s Open Data API to her, and started teaching her how to create a website.
While many said that seeing many creative minds in action was the highlight for them during the YRS week, what intrigued me more from a sociological perspective was how people worked together. It was heartening for me to see how humble and cooperative these kids are. The Bump-O-Matic project was a good example that demonstrated the collaborative aspect.
Bump-O-Matic is a free android app for the surveying of Britain’s roads. The GPS and the accelerometer in a smart phone will record the location and the movement of a moving vehicle thereby the data can be used to detect numbers of potholes and how bumpy a road is. The project idea was initially proposed by one of the mentors Sam Bails, and picked up and extended by the five teen boys. Three of them (Chris, Matt, Liam) were school mates who met Cade and William at YRS. Chris who has played with GPS before and was confident with his skills led the project. The younger participants Cade and William helped to create a webpage.
What intrigued me was the amount of interest that this project generated. These boys had so much fun going out cycling and testing their app. Lee, the father of Zack, got involved helping them fixing the flat tyres. Some other mentors also downloaded their app and tested it on their way to YRS. Even the local green activist group was involved: Manchester Climate Monthly did a feature article on this project, and would like to promote this app to local cyclists as they believe that pot holes are the major killers for cyclists; mapping the locations and numbers of pot holes and notify local councils of these problems will gradually fix the problem.
Here are some more photos capturing the hacking moments at MadLab during YRS2012.
Show n Tell
Many mentors would agree with me that being a YRS mentor was fun and inspiring – so much have I learned from these young people and my fellow mentors. No wonder that there has already been discussion about how to sustain the creativity and passion ignited at YRS 2012. Let’s see. To more about what happened at YRS Manchester 2012, this page provides a good summary of what happened.