A “Hive” Pop-Up Previews the San Francisco Hive Learning Network

by Kelsey Herron

Food trucks and pop-ups were all the rage back in 2012. Stores selling clothing or gourmet ice cream would pop-up for a day or two, cause a stir, and then disappear. It was brilliant marketing, allowing entrepreneurs to test the waters for a more permanent presence. Back in October, the trend moved into education. Pop-ups hit the “maker” community to introduce a new kind of learning organization—a Hive.

Four youth-serving organizations in San Francisco partnered on the city’s first Hive Pop-Up Learning Lab. The San Francisco Public Library, Bay Area Video Coalition, California Academy of Sciences, and KQED, with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation, held a two-day pop-up that had youth using digital tools to create content under the banner of “Save the Earth.”

The event was the first step in developing a “Learning Lab” at the San Francisco Main Library, as well as a step toward a larger goal of creating a Hive Network in San Francisco. The lab will offer students access to innovative technologies and, importantly, mentors who help spark and support that curiosity. The learning lab will also be a partner in an exciting new concept, a Hive. Hives are a group of cultural and youth-serving organizations in a city that are deliberately coordinating their programming to create a string of linked learning opportunities for kids in and out of school.

The use of the “pop-up” as a stepping stone for developing future collaborative projects, like a Learning Lab or Hive, was first made popular in New York City. The pop-ups there served as a relatively easy way to jumpstart interest among youth and encourage short-term participation from varied organizations in the city’s Hive Network who all share the same impetus to serve youth.

“It makes the excitement, messiness, fun and learning value obvious. So as we are increasingly asked to plant Hive seeds and bring Hive-ness to new locations, the Hive Pop-Up has become our advance strategy,” said Director of the Hive Learning Network Chris Lawrence on the Hive New York City blog. “These Hive Pop-Up events also offer us the opportunity to collectively demonstrate Hive ideas and present a public face to other educators, press, the public, and most importantly to youth.”

Chicago Hive program director Christian Greer, while acknowledging that the Hive requires sustainability beyond the pop-up, said that this startup model often can portray the potential and excitement behind a hive, as well as afford a few conveniences, such as time and location. “The great thing about the pop-up is that we just need to find a space to make it all happen,” he said. Once the pop-up is over, however, the hard work begins of stitching together the organizations in a way that smartly supports teens and learning.

Regardless of how a Hive gets off the ground, three “threads of support” must run beneath a network:

-          Mentors who fit youths’ needs;

-          A badging system of assessment, or “badge-able” experiences that connect them to related professionals and experts;

-          Youth councils, and the inclusion of youth voice.

And these threads are wrapped around a concept called “connected learning,” which is learning that is interest-driven, peer-supported, and designed in such a way that helps youth translate and connect what they learn online or in out-of-school programs toward more academic, civic, and later career options.

Both Greer and Chicago Hive Administrative Director Christina Timmins also emphasized the importance of letting youth lead in these endeavors, to be a vital part of designing the programs and activities. It is youth interests that should shape the programming in Hive organizations.

“The idea is to keep building the youth voice within the network,” said Timmins. 

“In Chicago, we’ve identified the youth council, mentors, and badges framework to recognize what kids are learning and hopefully power their interests and mastery,” said Greer.

The Chicago Hive has managed to keep youth involved through a group of “Hive Ambassadors” who take part in the decision-making behind the hive, and help plan its future activities. The ambassadors are include approximately 12 to 15 students who are  involved in the city’s five participating organizations that have youth councils, including Yollocalli Arts Reach and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The ambassadors began convening last May and spent this past summer developing a toolkit for future youth councils. Ideally, the ambassadors, along with other local organizations, will be able to submit proposals to the Hive and receive funding for future projects and programs.

Not only are youth voices an integral part of the future of the Chicago Hive, but they are encouraged to go back to their organizations and help lead those youth councils as well.

“The youth councils are going to help keep us grounded,” said Greer, explaining that their perspective should always align with the general focus of the Hive. Timmins agreed, “If we’re really networked, they have to be part of the design, and really active in the conversation,” she said.

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