Using Goggles to Change Google: Teens Learn the Power of Programming at Mozilla’s Hackasaurus
4.15.11 | The teens taking part in the YOUmedia workshop on programming were doing what most teens do—texting a friend, checking in with their favorite website, watching a YouTube video. Atul Varma, labs engineer at Mozilla, meanwhile, was writing HTML on the whiteboard and explaining the fundamentals of how the web works. The teens were polite, but clearly he was losing them. Until…
“You know, you can change the Google homepage, right?”
The teens perked up.
“Yep, with just a little change to the HTML, and, voilà!”—the Google logo was no more, replaced by a photo of someone’s dog.
The room erupted. The teens switched over from their surfing to Google’s homepage to try it for themselves.
This is what typically happens at Hackasaurus, a workshop on the basics of programming that the Mozilla Foundation created to introduce kids to programming.
With the help of Web X-Ray Goggles, a tool developed by Mozilla, the teens were learning the building blocks of what the web is made of—and remixing it.
“The curriculum and software is meant to show kids they can configure the environment,” Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, told Spotlight. Having that agency catapults teens and others into a new role, one of producer rather than passive consumer.
“You can flip a switch with the Web X-Ray Goggles and see what’s there, and then change certain things. We want them to realize how shapeable the web is. Programming turns you into a powerful wizard.”
The tool is designed to introduce students to HTML tags—the most basic components of website programming.
“Apparently a lot of public schools now just assume ‘Oh, kids these days are digital natives, so we don’t need to teach them anything about computers.’ Whereas all of these kids that we’re talking to now, they’ve never had any kind of computer classes, they know how to use Facebook, but nothing else.” Varma said.
“This is how the things you use every day are created. And it’s something you can understand, and it’s something you can do yourself whether it’s for fun or for a job,” added Varma.
Even if the teens never become programmers, they will have the beginnings of an important digital literacy—believing that one’s world is configurable and feeling empowered to change it.
“You’re taking part in the spirit of the web itself,” Surnam said.
StudentSpeak, a video series produced by Spotlight, goes behind the scenes to show how teens use digital media in their daily lives. View previous webisodes here.
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