Making and Reflection: Learnings from Hive Toronto’s NASA Youth Space Challenge

This was previously post on Hive NYC by Kathryn Meisner, Director of Hive Toronto.

In last week’s inaugural #teachtheweb Twitter chat about making and learning, participant Chad Sansing succinctly outlined key ways we can learn from making: “design, iteration, documentation, publication, reflection, failing w/ gusto.” In my response, I heartily agreed but noted that reflection is often the missing piece of this puzzle.

The “making as learning” approach is baked into Hive member organizations’ work with youth and it also underlies the way Hive Toronto functions as a network. In efforts to build the reflection piece into the Hive Toronto puzzle, we held our first post-pop-up “High Fives and Debrief” session to discuss most recent event, the NASA Youth Space Challenge.


In a nutshell, this debrief conversation showed us:

  • We are indeed meeting a need within the Toronto community
  • Our collaborative process is working
  • We run a mean pop-up

However, in order to level up we need to:

  • Be more proactive about making these opportunities accessible to more youth
  • Tweak some of our collaborative and event-planning processes

The NASA Youth Space Challenge

On April 20th, Hive Toronto hosted the NASA Youth Space Challenge. It was one of 8 locations worldwide that offered a youth branch of the NASA International Space Apps competition. Space Apps “embraces collaborative problem solving with a goal of producing relevant open-source solutions to address global needs applicable to both life on Earth and life in space.”

This pop-up was initiated by MakerKids, a Hive Toronto member – another first for Hive Toronto! MakerKids took on a programming role and worked collaboratively with other members to create stations that utilized their organization’s skill set but added a space twist. I could not be the event lead for this pop-up because I was going to be out of the country on event day. Ashley Lewis, a Hive member via TiffKids, MakerKids, and Girls Learning Code, stepped up to be the lead.

In true Hive pop-up style, the NASA Youth Space Challenge brought together 5 member organizations to provide awesome making and learning stations for youth to explore in a self-directed, interest driven way.

In addition to MakerKids, participating Hive member organizations included Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Story Planet, FabSpaces, Girls Learning Code as well as the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration and Mozilla’s Webmaker team.

NYSC - FabSpaces

Over 100 youth came to the ROM to DJ with sounds from deep space, build Oooblecks, make cubestats, create exoplanets and more. MakerKids summed up the day in their blog post here. Check out the pop-up from the perspective of youth members of Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada as documented on the Hive Toronto Tumblr.

NYSC postcardYouth edited photos and created stories to accompany their image with the “Wish You Were Here” post card station.

NYSC djDJing space soundtracks

I have to admit I was a bit nervous not being present at the pop-up but this reaffirmed what I already knew: Hive Toronto members are an extremely capable group of people who are able to make things work. After a successful collaboration or event, it is tempting to end on a high note but if we stop at this point and do not engage in reflection, we miss out on huge opportunities and lessons. So we embarked on our first reflection process.

Hive Toronto’s reflection process

  1. Schedule a 1 hour conference call using Doodle (a super-simple scheduling tool) to figure out the best time.
  2. Prep and send out an agenda with guiding questions to get people’s brains storming. Our guiding questions included:
  • Who do you want to thank or give a shout out to?
  • Your fave moment of the day
  • The event: What went well? What could be improved at the next pop-up? How can we better deal with these issues/challenges?
  • How can we involve youth that don’t usually have access to these opportunities?
  • Our collaborative process: What went well? What could be improved at the next pop-up? How can we better deal with these issues/challenges?
  1. Build the agenda and guiding questions into an Etherpad to be used during the conference call. This allows for documentation and multiple editors. Etherpads also give the option for people to contribute to the discussion through writing.
  2. Summarize the main takeaways and report back to the larger Hive Toronto.
  3. Return to the Etherpad when planning future events to implement lessons learned.

Tips and tricks

Constructive criticism is essential but it’s also important to create space to celebrate successes and examine how these success can be recreated. If critiques are framed as solution-focused, it’s likely to have a productive conversation instead of a vent-fest. And don’t forget to try “silent Etherpadding” – give people 5 mins to brainstorm and write responses to a particular question.All sorts of ideas will come out of this strategy!

What we identified we’re doing well:

  • People find value in what we’re doing which is evident in the feedback we received:

‘The Toronto event also expanded on our global vision by engaging a huge number of youth into the effort with a keen eye to inspiring students and a professional commitment to doing it with scientific accuracy. The global team hopes to replicate Toronto’s pioneering work in that area into future efforts.”

-Ali Llewellyn, Global Space Apps Coordinator, NASA

“Great event, especially for girls, lots of female presenters.”

“Well organized and tons of good energy, engaging, creative content, and tech focus.”

“So. Much. Fun. Where else can you get your mind blown collaborating with aerospace engineers, astronauts, kids, students, makers, and Toronto’s rising stars in software development?” – Heather Leson, Director of Community Engagement, Ushahidi

  • Our collaborative process is working. In general, we test for interest in the Hive, have a planning call, send email updates as necessary, and then have a final call before the event.
  • The combination of the flow of stations and having a theme for this pop-up made for a more cohesive experience for both learners and participating Hive members.
  • Collaborating on Hive Toronto pop-ups is creating other opportunities for members to collaborate

What – and how – we can improve:

  • More consideration given to the venue
    • We need an open space that can fit learners without over crowding.
    • Have one point of contact with the venue to create easier communication
  • Cost of supplies
    • Explore options for donation at future Hive events
    • Clearly outline budget for supplies prior to members diving into event planning
  • Involve youth that don’t usually have access to these opportunities
    • As we plan, ask ourselves: of the kids that will attend, what percentage do we want to be from this group?
    • Set aside a percentage of spots specifically for youth at-risk
    • Build in more promo time for outreach
    • Outreach to schools, religious institutions youth are part of, language groups, community centres, other communities that target youth events (Girl Guides, Scouts, etc)
    • Venue: go to where the youth already are
      • Examples: YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, libraries, schools
    • Host events that focus on beginner skills and exploration
    • More of a “come and check out what is going on,” instead of a “build your skills”
    • Transportation may be an issue – buses or escorted groups from particular neighbourhoods or community centres
    • Explore sponsorship from bus companies like Laidlaw

We are sharing this experience with you in the hopes that it may help you along your “making as learning” journey. The act of sharing is also useful to us because it is a reflective process in itself. Reflection is a tool that will enable us to grow our pop-ups and Hive Toronto collaborations.

We’re curious to know more about your journey. How do you reflect? How do you collaborate? How do you reach youth who do not usually have digital learning opportunities? Please share in the comments below!