Anthony Negron “You have an experience with an organization where you gel so perfectly that you start thinking about other ways to collaborate.”

Anthony started working with the New York Hall of Science as a college student, working as an “Explainer” and interacting directly with museum visitors — interpreting exhibits, performing demonstrations, and eventually mentoring incoming staff. He has continued to facilitate others’ learning throughout his career, and now works as the Manager of Digital Programming. Beyond his work advancing digital inclusion and literacy, Anthony and the NYSCI provide some great examples of the benefits and challenges of belonging to the extended Mozilla network, in this case through his involvement with the Hive NYC Learning Network.


Anthony’s Story

Could you tell me a bit about your work?

My name is Anthony. I am the Manager of Digital Programming at the New York Hall of Science — NYSCI. I’ve been with the institution for 12 years now, going on 13, and I’ve held various positions within the museum starting right out of high school.

My first year in college I was an Explainer. During that time my main focus was working on the museum floor directly, interacting with visitors, interpreting exhibits, performing different demonstrations, working on helping develop some of the younger Explainers coming in, and increasingly playing more of a mentor role as I progressed in my career.

Then I shifted to our education department where I started off as a Digital Learning Curriculum Developer and then progressed to Manager of Digital Programming, which is the position I have now.

Digital programming is a sub-department within education. I have one other full-time staff member. Our projects focus on integrating technology and various online digital tools into the programming and giving students the opportunity to access these tools and apply them in ways that address their interests and issues that they are passionate about.

Can tell me about a specific time where you really felt a sense of success?

Over the past couple of years, New York Hall of Science and the Girl Scouts have really developed a great relationship and collaboration with each other. Recently, we’ve been working with them on their Girl Scouts Leadership Institute program, which is a 15-month program focused on high school-age students.

This year we had a cohort of about 46 girls coming for three weeks. The main focus of the program is to help the students collaborate and develop an application (using MIT App Inventor) that addresses a specific issue that the students identified and are interested in.

This year was interesting because we had a lot of younger students. In previous years, we had more high school juniors and seniors. But this year we have a lot more incoming freshmen — and we had a lot more time with them. I’ve really seen them grow. There are a lot of success stories with different individuals within the program.

The students really came out of their shells. Throughout the program there are various opportunities to communicate and share out your project idea. Ultimately they had to pitch their idea in front of different professionals working in coding or programming or tech-related fields.

Different students got really different experiences. I love that program dearly. A few days after it ended, it was actually a little depressing. I thought, “What do I do now?” It was such an amazing experience. The girls communicated how much they got out of it. I saw some teens that really struggled with collaboration and saw them perform and really do amazing presentations.

That was something that really got to me, too — them doing their presentations in front of these professionals, who saw amazing presentations. But I saw even more because I saw the process what led them up to there. I saw them at their worst and I saw them at their best. For me, that was really a successful program.

Did you see any common things come up in the apps the girls created? Common interests or concerns?

They were actually pretty diverse in terms of topics and issues that the apps address. Some have a little bit more of entrepreneurship aspect. One topic that came up was fashion and the issue of lack of diversity in fashion. Another one focused on giving students the opportunity to share prep books, like SAT prep books, test prep books, and creating a platform where it’s safe and they can share these materials at a very low cost.

One common theme is maybe educating others on a topic, or bringing awareness to a particular issue. They were all very passionate about whatever topic they ended up choosing — and very passionate about developing the app to address it.

What’s an example of a challenge that you’ve faced?

What’s been very challenging for us over the past couple of years has been developing curriculum in-house, piloting it through either week-long camps or in afterschool programs, and then preparing educators from other institutions to adapt it. We had to be very conscious about being flexible, so that the curriculum would not be rigid or prescriptive. We wanted to give other institutions the chance to put their signature into the curriculum — to embed their organizational aims in it.

You’re never going to have the perfect curriculum. You’re never going to get it to the point where you feel 100% comfortable with it.

Some institutions have experienced educators who have been doing this type of work for a long time, while others have programs led by high school or college kids. In those cases, we take more time to work with them and we focus more on professional development: What do good teaching practices look like? What does a good classroom environment look like?

This is a challenge in terms of time because we have one set professional development program for all of the organizations we work with. But some organizations need more attention — they need a more tailored experience. So that becomes time consuming.

In your own words, how would you describe the “open” Internet?

Accessibility to various tools that give users of the Internet the opportunity to build and make pretty much anything they want.

I try to embed accessibility into the culture of the museum, and into a lot of our programming. When we develop curriculum we look for tools that are free. And we also make resources available, whether it’s online tutorial videos or access to existing curriculum. So once the students learn to use a tool at our institution they can continue their experience.

It has happened many times that students become really interested in the tool that they used through their experience with us and ask, “Oh, can we use this when we go home?”. But with certain tools, like some video editing tools, you need a computer that can support them, you need the money to pay for the software. So that’s what I really focus on when I’m thinking of the open Internet.

Can you tell me about a time when the open Internet has been important to you, either personally or for your organization?

More personally, sometimes when I’m about to develop a program I ask myself questions like, What is something that I’m really interested in? What are some of the things that I would like to do? The answers give me some of the motivation and passion to learn these tools.

When Mozilla Popcorn first launched I saw it at a MakerParty — one of the first ones. I wasn’t too sure… I saw some kids using it and I thought, “Oh, that’s a pretty cool tool.” This was right before Star Wars: Episode Seven was announced. I’m a nerdy geek, so the way I learned to use Popcorn was to take clips from some of the old movies and some of the games, and use those to try to make my own trailer. That’s how I was able to learn to use Popcorn.

Also for my personal hobbies. Lately I’m really into film. I like watching older films. I like having access to an environment where people are blogging about different movies or posting review videos.

Access to all of this has allowed me to dive deeper into my personal interests.

Can you tell me how you got involved with Mozilla and what that’s been like?

Years ago, when I first transitioned to the education department, my former manager Chris Lawrence represented NYSCI at an earlier stage of the Hive, when it was called the New Youth City Learning Network. When he brought me to meetings there were maybe 10 to 12 people. It felt overwhelming — hearing about the different work that these organizations were doing, and the various projects they were involved in.

It really got me excited, I’d think “Oh, that’s something we can do here. We can remix that and add a NYSCI signature.” When Chris moved on, I became the NYSCI representative to the Hive and really became part of the learning network.

That has been tremendously beneficial for me personally and professionally. Getting the opportunity to meet amazing people, and develop friendships on a professional and personal level.

Being involved with Hive has really sparked ideas. For example, I had the opportunity to attend Emoticon a couple of years ago. Some of our youth were presenting a fashion program that we did — fashion and tech.

Emoticon created a platform where students across different organizations were all together and had space to share their work and their passions. They would say things like “Oh, at this organization, these are some of the projects that I’ve been working on, but at this other organization I can do X, Y, and Z.”

That inspired us to develop a program called Girls First Digital Studio, where we focused on creating that same environment — and environment where youth from different areas in New York City, representing different organizations, can come together and showcase their passions, while also raising awareness about the resources that available to them as students in New York City.

When I was a kid, I had no idea there were all these different after school programs. I wish I had taken more advantage of them. All I knew about were after-school clubs at my high school. I played a decent amount of sports, and that was pretty much it.

Now, if I wanted to do something about game design, there are so many organizations that do that, and that I would have access to that.

For me, that’s what’s been something that’s really been beneficial about being part of Mozilla, and what Mozilla has given back to me.

Looking back on the experiences you’ve had so far, is there a time where Mozilla didn’t meet your expectations, or are there particular areas where you think some improvements could be made?

Not so much not meeting my expectations, but I think it can become very overwhelming, especially as the Hive learning network grows — which Mozilla supports. I have responsibilities at the museum and sometimes I have to balance the two.

I have moments where I’m really involved and immersed in NYSCI and Hive almost on the same level, other times I have to take a step back, and sometimes the Hive has gone a little MIA or quiet as they transition and figure things out, as they shape the network. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride over the past couple of years. For me, that’s been the biggest challenge — going through that process.

Do you see any ways that these stories might be useful to you — if at all?

I would be really curious to hear what individuals get out of being part of the Hive network. I think it’s a platform where maybe they feel safer to talk about some of the challenges they’ve faced being a representative. So I’d like to know more about the benefits to them.

I’m very passionate about the network and helping it grow in whatever capacity. I think this would be a great opportunity to collect that information and share it, because I don’t feel like every individual or every representative feels a hundred percent comfortable being that honest.

Have you felt comfortable being honest with others in the network?

Yes. And I try to demonstrate that by being somewhat of a leader — as a person who’s been with the network for a long time. When we have opportunities to share out about our work, as much as I talk about the good I also talk about the bad or the real challenges.

Our program is not perfect. We’ve run into roadblocks, and people really appreciate hearing about them because for the most part they’re running into the same issues. They ask, “Oh, how did you overcome that?”

Also reinforcement is important — “Oh, you had those successful moments? That’s great because we’ve had similar successes. I’m curious to know… How did you achieve those moments?” Maybe they learn new things. A lot of innovative things come out of being honest. Maybe not so much ‘honest’ but being as open as you can.

Is there anything more you want to tell me or anything you want to ask?

I’m trying to think. There are so many great stories. Thinking about how many organizations that I’ve collaborated with — it’s so many. It isn’t even on one project. Our main project through Hive is our C3 program. It’s an environmental science program. The core elements of it is teaching kids about the science behind the different types of pollution. We do that in a very interactive hands-on way. The second component of that is having students use both digital and analog tools to collect environmental data in their area, in their local community.

Putting the topic of pollution and environmental science in the context of their neighborhood makes them more passionate to learn about it. It makes them more passionate to develop action plans. The final thing they do in that project is develop some type of action plan. It could be to create a public service announcement video. It could be a comic book strip. Whatever they’re passionate about, they can develop a action plan to communicate change.

Being able to partner with all these different organizations has helped inform the program, and we’ve made several modifications. That collaboration is super beneficial to everyone involved.

Then through that other programs have spawned out. You have an experience with an organization where you just gel so perfectly, and then you start thinking about other ways you can collaborate. That’s happened a lot with a lot of the different partners that we’ve worked with over the years.

It usually starts out looking like one thing, and then it just morphs like an amoeba, changes to something else, and grows. Now we work with the Girl Scouts on a lot of different projects. I love working with them.

Did you meet Girl Scouts through Hive?

Yes. When we were looking for partners for our C3 program — Collect, Construct, Change. We were at the point of scaling C3 to different institutions.

And there was a certain moment with C3 where we took a step back. We got our funding through trusts and DML — Digital Media & Learning Research Hub — to take a look at the range of digital tools. We originally had a Parsons graduate student during the first iteration of the program. He did really great things, but we needed something that was a little bit more sustainable, a little bit more consistent, especially in the terms of collecting data.

We were asked by another Hive partner to present at a panel for a conference. At the conference we talked about the different programs that we were doing at the museum. Then I just mentioned that, “Oh, we’re also on the lookout for someone to contract, to bring on board, and to help us really reimagine these digital tools.”

And it just happened that the right person was in that audience. His name is Michael Heimbinder. He’s the Executive Director of HabitatMap. He wasn’t a Hive partner. He just happened to be there. We were able to connect with him, and he eventually became a Hive member. I brought him on board, and he got to work with some other Hive partners as well.

C3 is one of the initial projects of the Learning Network and I’ve seen it through various iterations. For example Hive has had a fashion initiative, and we were able to take the C3 curriculum and model and apply that to a tech+fashion program.

We worked with high school students and they developed different wearable accessories that connected via Bluetooth to this app that broadcasts sound quality readings. If the sound gets very very loud, your accessory would start to glow — red, green, yellow, orange. They made really cool accessories.

It’s funny… a lot of the girls created more realistic things that they could wear, like earrings or a purse or something like that. The boys made armor and swords. There was a nice mix of different projects at the end. They had a lot of fun. We worked with Parsons on that — also a great organization to work with.

There are also instances where students in our program participate in the programs of other Hive organizations. Some of them are actually working at the museum now. One of our students, from our Girls First Digital Studio Program, has participated with Global Kids and also with a couple other organizations. She’s in her first or second year in college now.