Last month, I participated in an event here in Boise called Hackfort, part of a festival know as Treefort. The whole experience was great, and I enjoyed meeting so many talented people in my community. I was also honored to be accepted to do a LEGO SERIOUS PLAY workshop as part of the Hackfort experience.
Along with my co-facilitator, Christian Kilpatrick, we planned a great two-hour workshop where participants would explore trends in the “tech industry” and identify skills that they can develop to better their chances of success in a STEM career. I had my LEGO bricks neatly sorted, my slides prepared, a fresh haircut, plenty of charged batteries for both my DSLR and GoPros. With 24 hours until my workshop, I was excited, and well prepared. Or so I thought.
The stop-motion workshop
One of the workshops that I was most looking forward to, as a participant, was one on how to shoot stop-motion video using LEGO bricks. Jared Jacobs (@goldyeller), a seemingly famous animator, was setting up his workshop, so I dropped in early to see if he needed help. We chatted for a bit, and I let him know that over the past two days, the room that we were both presenting in had drawn an average of 30 people per session. Like me, he had no idea how many people to anticipate.
Well, it is a good thing that the fire martial wasn’t there, because I’m pretty sure the room was over the maximum capacity. Every chair was full, some kids were sitting in their parents’ laps, and there were another 30 plus people sitting criss-cross, apple-sauce, on the floor. There were at least 80 people in the room, and probably half (or more) were kids. Jared was pleasantly surprised and humbled by the participation, and he delivered an awesome workshop. If you haven’t seen his work, absolutely take a moment and check out the rest of his videos on his youtube channel. The time and attention to detail he puts in is astounding.
Then panic set in
I was mentally prepared for 30 to 40 people to attend my workshop. What I hadn’t factored into the participant equation, was that in addition to Hackfort, there was also a Kidfort. And since we were both playing with LEGO bricks, naturally, we pulled from both forts. I realized that there would be no way that the workshop I was planning would scale to 70 or 80 people, in fact 40 was already pushing it. I went straight home that night (about 18 hours before my workshop started), and decided to go back to the drawing board, and find something that wouldn’t require as much input from the facilitators. And something, that hopefully, would be more appropriate to the younger audience.
Thankfully, I found a great plan-b idea from LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator, Mike Bowler, from Gargoyle Software. He had a couple of great resources on his website, including a one page inventory of the Window Exploration Bag, and a simple model to use while building from instructions. What was really nice, was that he had published several workshops that were geared towards software development. I realized that I could use his Simplicity, and Test Driven Development (TDD) workshops, and that they would be much easier to scale up to a group as large as the one I feared might show up.
Skill Building was ROUGH
What I hadn’t seen the day before, and simply wasn’t prepared to deal with, was the age of some of the participants. Unfortunately, the workshop description wasn’t exactly clear that the workshop would be Hard Fun. There were a number of very young kids (as in 3 or 4 years old), who heard LEGO and thought they would just get to play and build whatever they wanted. Making them build specific things, and especially building from instructions led to a few mini-meltdowns. To top the whole experience off, there was also a jam session going on outside my room, which consisted of probably 50+ drummers and guitar players, so I also had to talk over a rock concert.
After what seemed like the longest hour of my life, I decided that a single-function break was absolutely necessary, and actually hoped that presenting an opportunity for some of the already melted-down participants to leave without feeling guilty. I also decided, that even the TDD part of my presentation was going to be too much, and once again, I would need to audible from my game-plan.
Hour two was magical
Unsurprisingly, most of the under ten years old crowd, had had enough, and decided not to return for the second hour. Normally, participants leaving half-way through a session, would be depressing, but in this case, it was a relief. The remaining audience was mostly older than twelve years old, and was much better suited for what I was hoping to do. I did a quick poll of the roughly 20 remaining participants, who were happy to go into the software related portion that I had initially planned. We quickly went through the simplicity exercise, which yielded some amazing minimalist models, and into part one (the pair programming) part of the TDD exercise. For the first time, I felt like things were finally going well. And the rock concert got rained out, which meant I could stop using the microphone.
In the end, there were about six models built using TDD, and one final shared model that the entire group built using TDD. It was an amazing experience, and I think that everyone who stuck through the entire two and a half hours, got a lot out of it.
What I learned
The importance of controlling the audience and the room. If you’re not in control these factors, you may have surprises that can totally derail the entire workshop. I’m convinced, that if I do any workshop where kids might be present, that I’ll be very clear about which workshop is for kids, and which is for adults.
All said, Hackfort was a ton of fun, and I’m so glad that I presented, and learned a lot from the experience.
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