Take Your Kid to Work Day 2012 at R/GA

On Friday, March 4th, 2012, I participated in my first Take Your Kid(s) to Work Day at R/GA.  On this day, I had the pleasure to take part in Web Workshop, an introduction class that teaches kids 9-14 years old the basics of web development.  The web is the heart of R/GA, and we couldn’t think of a better way to show our kids what we do all day than to share our love for the internet with them.  Plus it’s cheap labor.

There were 3 instructors: Vinny Dibartolo, Katrina Bekessy, and Keath Chan (me)

Vinny set the stage by asking the students to identify the differences between content and layout (i.e. “what something says” versus “how something looks”).  He created two columns on the whiteboard: one with a mouth icon and one with an eye icon representing the separation of content from markup.  The kids were then asked to tell us what goes into each column.  For a stop sign, a red octagon goes in the eye column and the letters “STOP” go in the mouth column.

Katrina then gave a high level description of how the web works.  She explained that when you type a URL into the web browser’s address bar, a web request is sent over the internet to the web server which then returns the HTML and CSS for the page requested.  The web browser then interprets the response from the server and renders the page accordingly.

I then introduced them to the HTML tags as “building blocks” to a Web page.  I compared tags to the bread in a sandwich, instructing them that there needs to be a start and end tag wrapping all the content.  We talked about the <html>, <title>, <a>, <img> tags.   By this point the kids were visibly anxious to start.

So we let them have at it.  Each student was provided a laptop loaded with a premade “About Me” template.  We left it up to them to personalize the page by filling it with their own text, pictures, and if they feel ambitious enough, stylings.

The results were amazing.

It’s no hyperbole when I say that these kids are incredible learners.  I’ve taught web workshops to others (usually adults) and what these kids were able to do in this 1.5 hour session equals what I’ve seen others take 2-3 sessions before they get it.  Many of them jumped right in and just “got it” in a matter of minutes.  In no time at all, they were in the text editor adding their own text images, changing CSS color and border styles, linking their page to other sites .  Although the class was 2 full hours, some spent the rest of the day on their page and asked questions as diverse as “how do I put a border around my site?” to (believe it or not) “what are the legal restrictions with using this image?”.

It was clearly a hit on a number of levels.  These bright young stars of the digital era gave us hope for the future of the web.  And fear that we’ll be out of a job all too soon.