create / 2014

#EnvisionLA by coding and design with MINECRAFT

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by URBAN Teens Exploring Technology ( TXT )

Kids ages 10-17 from low income communities in LA will collaborate, design, code, & create a new LA for the year 2050 using Minecraft


Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Kids ages 10-17 from low income communities in LA will collaborate, design, code, & create a new LA for the year 2050 using Minecraft

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • Watts

What is your idea/project in more detail?

#EnvisionLA is a year long interactive, collaborative online project which harnesses the creative potential within the Minecraft video game platform, and asks youth from disadvantaged areas of Watts, East LA, Pico Union, and South LA to re-create their current neighborhood within the game. URBAN TXT will teach kids ages 10-17 to code and design. They will be empower and help us create how the inner city should look like in the year 2050. The Java programming language URBAN TXT teaches, will allows kids to modify the Minecraft world to create their own designs. Participating youth will re-create their neighborhoods as they envision it will exist in the year 2050, using their imagination, acquired skills, and collaborative efforts.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

To implement this project, founder Oscar Menjivar, and our team of over 20 mentor-coders from URBAN TXT, will bring together Black and Latino youth from the areas of South LA, Watts, East LA, and Pico Union to teach them basic and advanced skills in computer programming and design. Much of the initial training will take place within ‘The Cube’, UrbanTxt’s newly renovated ‘Hacker Space’ Headquarters on the outskirts of campus at USC. The students will take these skills, and use them to create simulated scale environments of their own neighborhoods within the Minecraft video game world, as the students envision, and create, what their neighborhoods will look like in the year 2050. Young people will work collaboratively within project management groups, to construct these virtual LA neighborhoods of the future. Many of the youth who participate in our program come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Teens will be learning while playing, having fun, connecting across the city and developing skills that will help create a diverse tech workforce in Los Angeles. Teens who have previously participated in URBAN TXT curriculum will mentor and teach new students how to code, and how to reimagine present day low-income neighborhoods as new communities of the future. #EnvisionLA is an opportunity for young people to create their own utopian worlds, filled with as much hope and opportunity as they wish to fill it. Classes for youth participating in the project will take place at our HackerSpace and at the locations of participating partners. We will train 20 mentors to implement the program and 1 full staff member, and expect it will take four sessions of coding and design classes per week to teach youth the necessary skills. Our equipment needs include computers, a server, and Minecraft related software to complete the project. We expect to complete the #VisonLA virtual world project by September of 2015.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

Our idea will make LA the best place to create today, because we are engaging young innovators who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and have great ideas, to make their communities a better place. These young innovators want to start creating and sharing their ideas today. The over 150 students we have interviewed in the past year are ready to be part of an LA that encourages them to create and design new environments, and where they will learn the skills of the 21st century.

Minecraft already serves as a phenomenon of creativity and collaboration within the gaming community. Our #EnvisionLA project only seeks to harness the collective, and often untapped, resources of creativity and collaboration within the disadvantaged neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Where gang rivalries and violence act as detractors and deterrents to living in these neighborhoods, and delivering good-paying jobs to these same communities, our #EnvisionLA project will serve as a reason to bring hope there. Not only because these communities will be transformed through the collaborative efforts of our coding teams rendering new designs of them in the virtual world, but because these teams will have learned the skills necessary for each team member to get that well-paying job- today. It is currently reported that only 10% of our nation’s K-12 schools have computer programming classes http://cbsloc.al/1nJEWfc. In LA’s inner city, this number is closer to 1%

In 2050, our project will have served as the project that gave young people of color an opportunity to be part of the tech world. Our project will undoubtedly increase the amount of students who are interested in coding and designing. In 2050, LA will be the best place to create because, by then, we will have a more diverse group of people being part of the tech and innovation industry. Today, a 10 year old kid living in Watts who is inspired by our project could easily be the one who creates the next big tech start up in South Los Angeles. The skills they learn through #EnvisionLA will make them part of a workforce that allows Los Angeles to create the best products and businesses possible, and solve LA’s most pressing problems. If we don’t help kids in low- income communities engage with coding and design today, LA will lack creativity and innovation in the future. URBAN TxT, through #EnvisionLA, will help create a future workforce that inspires the culture and vibrancy of an innovative Los Angeles.

Whom will your project benefit?

Directly, our project will benefit the 400 young people who will participate in #EnvisionLA , which will teach them the computer programming skills they need to become employable within the programming industry. Indirectly, our impact through this project solution has the potential to be much greater. Currently, the LAUSD high school student body is 75 percent Latino, 9 percent African American, 4 percent Asian, 9 percent White, 3 percent Filipino, and 74 percent of this cohort is economically disadvantaged ( LA 2050 report, p. 13), According to this same report, unemployment rates for African American and Latinos are the highest among any ethnic group in Los Angeles. As UrbanTxt serves youth through this project, we expect the ratio of participants to be approximately 60% Latino and 40% African-American, and we expect for 100% of these youth to have employable skills in computer programming by the end of this project’s duration.

In Los Angeles County the unemployment rate for African Americans and Latinos is 21 percent and 14 percent, respectively (LA 2050 report, p. 18). This LA County demographic make-up (with a large share of the population being Latino and African American) implies that the region will persistently suffer from elevated rates of unemployment in the future. Based on these factors, the Los Angeles of 2050 will continue to be a region of haves and have-nots. However, the #EnvisionLA project will provide skills to teens that will encourage them to continue creating and designing with the programming skills they learn. If each one of our 400 program participants touched the lives of a mother, father, sister and brother through their contribution to the local/global economy, we fully expect the impact of #EnvisionLA to impact over one thousand lives.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

As of January 2014, UrbanTxt has trained over 60 kids in four computer programming languages. Our students have created their own apps, and some have even gone on to sell their apps within the Apple App Store. Now we are going to share our knowledge of design and code with ten other organizations around Los Angeles. We already have partner agreements with ICEF and Alliance Charter Schools, and we have discussed the project with Boys and Girls clubs, Brotherhood Crusade, #YesWeCode, Manual Arts HS, Markham Middle School, Arts+ Practice Foundation, YMCA and ELACC. URBAN TxT has a history of collaborating with each of these organizations, and now we want to bring coding to the kids they serve. Every year URBAN TxT receives over 150 applications for our Summer Computer Leadership Academy. Most of our applicant pool comes from our partners, who help us recruit. Currently we are working with over 25 schools all over Los Angeles.

Three factors that will be critical to the success of our collaboration are:

  1. Organizations allowing us to use their facilities to provide the Minecraft and coding training at their locations.
  2. Providing an online resources system that will allow the participants to communicate with us remotely when we are not at their location. We have already developed an internal online social media tool for teens to safely communicate with our mentors and staff
  3. A quarterly meeting where all teens participating gather to share the work they are doing. It will be important that we support all collaborators with troubleshooting assistance to meet their technology needs.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Create” metrics?

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Jobs per capita
  • Minority- and women-owned firms
  • Number of high-growth startups
  • Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric)
  • Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Our project is hitting many areas for today and LA2050. As mentioned before there are very few Latinos and Blacks in the creative industry. We hope to inspire more Latinos and Blacks to become owners of tech startups. We know that LA will not survive if we do not trained the disfranchised individuals in low income communities. The more we inspired them to code and design, the more minority owned firms we will see in the future. We must tapped into the assets of low income communities in order for LA to be a vibrant and prosperous town in the year 2050. We cant be a prosperous without those who have less resources, specially resources in tech and design.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

During our #EnvisionLA program, we will evaluate student experiences through pre and post surveys, focus groups, final product presentations review, informal feedback and evaluation assessing change of mindset (e.g. did you think you would be able to learn to code, did you think you could create your own neighborhood using the skills you learned, etc.). As students progress, URBAN TxT leadership and staff are also in contact with graduates through a private internal social media alumni network in which they are able to share their personal and academic successes with other alumni and current program participants.

  1. 100% Students will learn the fundamentals of computer programming
  2. 100 students will have created meaningful friendships through their online collaboration
  3. At least 2 housing projects would have been redesigned using minecraft

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

According to the Minecraft homepage, https://minecraft.net/, as of July 26, 2014, over 16,341,000 people have purchased the PC/Mac version of Minecraft. This is a game that today, at this very moment, thrives on its connectivity and shared purpose in achieving a single goal. Every year we receive 150 applications to participate in our computer programming classes. Every year we reject 130 kids. LA2050 can help us serve over 400 students. Not one kid who tell us that they want to learn to code or design will be left behind. In the last two years we have interviewed over 300 kids and they all have said that they want to create by learning to code. Our alumni have confirmed that one of the best way to reach more students is to use Minecraft. Minecraft is being used world wide and is time that Los Angeles uses it to create and nurture the future innovators of our city. While visiting the Jordan down projects in Watts, Jonathan one of the students in Urban Txt ,came out of his building and said, “So, when are we going to teach how to code here in Watts? How can we get younger kids to learn to code? ” And so we started kicking around ideas about what might be the best way to go about doing it, and our teens agreed that Minecraft would be a way to engage new younger kids.

After this first experience, we talked to other young people in the projects, and found out many of them had played the game. We ended up talking to a bunch of kids from these neighborhoods that knew what Minecraft was and knew how to play it, but couldn’t at home because of lack of connectivity and resources. We interviewed over 30 kids and asked them if they thought recreating their neighborhoods with new designs, maybe a few new parks, and new buildings, and making the neighborhood into something fresh using computers sounded interesting? In fact, most of the kids we talked to said that the one thing they would love to know how to do is recreate their communities, change the things they thought we wrong with it. The young people spoke, so we showed up.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Implementing this project within the next 12 months is an achievable goal for UrbanTxt, partly because we already have a number of strategic partnerships with schools and youth organizations in place that will allow us access to some of the brightest and most highly motivated students in Los Angeles. Our current partnerships include linkages with middle and high schools and the following orgs in Los Angeles: Alliance Charter Schools, Boys and Girls Club, ICEF Charter Schools, Manual Arts, Brotherhood Crusades, YMCA, ELACC, YesWeCode, Riordan Foundation, California Community Foundation, and the St. Vincent of Paul organization. From the pool of young people that attend and participate in these organizations, in addition to the waiting list of 300 students we have the UrbanTxt program, we will be able to assemble our group of 400 EnisionLA students and tomorrow’s technology entrepreneurs. Our track record of having trained over 300 young men of color how to computer program within the languages of Java, Javascript , html and css, proves that we know how to give young people the training and programming skills they need, and it proves we know how to teach them how to acquire these skills. We are supremely confident that we will be able to implement the VisionLA project within the next 12 months. We have key curriculum which trains trainers; we need to recruit students from list of 300 on our waiting that want to do something like this. Now only do we have the support of local organizations but also national organizations like Google , Yahoo, and YesWeCode. These organizations are ready to help us recruit volunteers and mentors if we need them. They have provided trainers for the past year. Bottom line is that over the past two years kids and orgs from all over Los angeles have asked us to expand, now we are ready to do it. We are ready to do it in a meaningful and unique way. A way that allows teens to connect, play, and learn across city borders. Is time to give all kids in low income community an opportunity to design and code.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

One of the challenges that we see in implementing the VisionLA project will be the fact that the neighborhoods and communities that we create within the game will only be accessible through our own network ‘servers’. A server is a computer system, which is used as a repository of data and various programs that are shared by users within a network. Typical computing serves are database servers, mail servers, and gaming servers- all of which house information which people within a network, or organization, can use. If you don’t have access to the server, you won’t be able to access the game. We will need to develop our own server and allow enough bandwith for everyone to join the network.

A second challenge we will need to address is the need for enough paid registered licenses so all of our program participants will be able to play- legally. As of February 2014, the creators of Minecraft stated that the game has over 100 million registered users worldwide. However, their website states that only 16 million of these users have paid for their licenses. This means that over 84 million people have downloaded the game illegally and are not practicing the precepts of digital citizenship. Citizenship, is formally defined as “the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community”, so digitial citizenship would be “the self-monitored habits that sustain and improve the digital communities we enjoy or depend on”, e.g. not stealing content or not bullying others while youth are playing the game. So we intend to make learning model behaviors of digital citizenship part of the process of taking part in VisionLA. By embedding these behaviors as part of the process of teaching programming skills, we will be able to at least lay the foundation of participants in our program learning appropriate behaviors when participating in a digital community.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)