Early this morning I taught the first session of an 8-session (40 minutes per session) course on Inkscape at a Boston-area middle school. The course is part of Red Hat’s community outreach program. My fellow Red Hatter John had come up with the idea for the program at a school meeting and made it happen, I created the curriculum with the help of the Fedora Design team, and my fellow RH designer Eve and I have volunteered our time to run the course. Red Hat has also donated some Wacom Bamboo Pen + Touch tablets to the school to use during the course. This program is something we’ve been working on making happen since last October so I’m very excited to have kicked things off today.
There’s a theme that spans the entire course, involving a rock band:
Blanchard Records, Inc. is a young record label and they’ve just signed a deal with a hot new band. They think this is going to be their big break, so they want to make a big splash – and it’s time to release a new album and kick off a worldwide tour.
There’s just one small problem. The band doesn’t even have a logo yet!
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create a logo for this new band, along with the artwork for the new album, a design for their worldwide concert tour poster, and their tour T-shirt.
You’ll learn how to do this using the free graphics program Inkscape, in a 8-session course. At the end of the course you’ll even get your own tour shirt, designed by you, to wear! Sign up today!”
That’s right, one very cool part of this course is that each of the students will produce a design that Walter, the owner of EmbroidMe Chelmsford has very generously agreed to print on T-shirts that the students can keep after the course.
Class Makeup and Organization
I was blown away by how quickly the students picked up on Inkscape. The class is 10 students, all whom are 7th graders. The teachers arranging the course had students ‘apply’ to the class by writing an essay about why they thought they were a good fit for the class – and the students’ motivation was really apparent from how well the class went. The class had originally been planned to be 10 sessions long, but because of various scheduling issues is 8 sessions long. I was really quite worried about this because already there’s a ton of material I have planned, and to condense that even further – well I was worried it would be too much material. After today, however, I’m pretty confident these students can handle what I throw at them very quickly.
The school has fairly new Mac desktops, so we used Inkscape 4.7 on OS X (yes, I know, but baby steps ). The Wacom Bamboo pen AND touch worked perfectly in Inkscape (after some hiccups… you must have X11 2.4 installed for it to work – we learned earlier this week during a test run that 2.3 doesn’t work.)
We had a very good student to teacher ratio as Ken noted (Ken is one of the teachers at the school who has been helping us a lot to make this happen.) Today we had 9 students (1 was absent), and 4 teachers (myself, Ken, Eve, and John.)
Today’s session theme was ‘Inkscape bootcamp’. We ran through the Inkscape bootcamp lesson plan I came up with in a little over 20 minutes. I’d give a quick demonstration of an Inkscape technique up on the projector, then I asked the students to try it themselves and I was able to watch their screens from where I was standing to make sure they were able to get through the exercise. Sometimes one or two of the students would run into trouble, and Eve and I would go over to their workstation and help them out quickly one-on-one. For more involved issues Eve helped out the student and I’d move forward in the lesson so the other students weren’t waiting too long. This seemed to go well for today.
We were left with about 15 minutes at the end of the lesson where I handed out an exercise sheet for the students to run through if they wanted to in order to practice the techniques we had just covered. But I left the time open for them, making it clear the exercises were just a suggestion. Tatica advised me from her experience teaching Inkscape courses that it’s important early on to give the students a chance to play around and discover on their own, and let them ask questions based on where they end up. So we did just that, and by the end of class time the students didn’t want to leave – I think that’s probably a good sign things are going well so far. Some of the works the students ended up with blew me away. Several of the students started playing with opacity and blur and came up with cool effects (one student came up with a circular design that would have easily made a nice disc design for a rock band album ) and compositions.
We laid out the lesson sheets before class next to the students’ keyboard, and one of the students actually had it read at the beginning of class such that he was always a few steps ahead of the class’ progression and he was already exploring the calligraphy tool effects (for example, making wiggly lines using the wiggle control) by the end of the 40 minutes. It was really cool to see.
Follow Along on Your Own
I’m going to try to make a blog post per session to keep you updated on how the class is going, and hopefully to also be a resource to other folks who might be interested in teaching a similar class. I’d like to document any issues we run into and the solutions we come up with as well as the successes we stumble upon to that end.
That being said, here’s the lesson plan and exercise sheets we used for the class today:
Introduction to Inkscape Lesson 1
Introduction to Inkscape Lesson 1 Exercises
If you’re following along at home and have any questions about the lesson or exercise go ahead and ask away in the comments!