Web3 Learning at My Middle School

How an NFT club provided an opportunity for middle schoolers to explore web3

In January 2022, at the height of the crypto and NFT buzz, I decided to do something radical at my middle school. I started an NFT club. At our assembly, nestled between the chess club, yoga flow, and “Sew Awesome,” I put up this slide to pitch this club to our 100 middle school students.

Afterward, I anxiously waited for the sign-ups or the possible lack of them. My initial fear was that none of the students would be interested in doing this. I knew there were a few students who knew of crypto from my investing club in the fall. I had also overheard a couple of students mention the “right-click save” phenomenon. I still wondered to myself if there were enough middle schoolers interested in spending a half hour every week talking about jpegs.

Can You Increase Your Maximum?

My answer came the following week when my principal asked to chat with me about my NFT Club. “Uh-oh,” I thought, maybe a parent complained about introducing this as something too controversial for kids. Or maybe no one signed up. “That’s fine,” I thought, I could spend the quarter in the library helping to thread sewing machines for the Sew Awesome club.

Instead, my principal asked me if I was willing to increase my maximum sign-ups from 10 to 14 because there were so many interested students. That was unexpected!

I, of course, said yes. The max of 10 was arbitrary and I was doubtful I’d even get that many.

Time to Make a Plan

All I needed now was a plan as to how I was going to teach young people about web3, the blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFTs. There was no playbook for this at the time. No resources, no lesson plans, and no chatGPT to generate learning outcomes.

I had to rely on good old-fashioned learning design. So I did what you should always do when presented with the challenge of leading instruction for someone–what are the outcomes?

I wrote three:

  • Understand how web3 will impact the future of work
  • Understand the relationship between technology and art
  • Understand how the blockchain empowers digital creators

My goal was to deliver these learning outcomes through a final performance assessment that would be a collaborative group project. We would create our own NFT generative art project to “sell” on the blockchain. 

I wanted to keep things analog and lo-fi. I also had a few connections in the art I knew I could lean on. So I started building out the general framework for how students would engage with these learning outcomes.

Grab Them with the Art

My approach was to use art as the hook. If I could get students to engage with art on a fundamental level I had a chance of getting them to understand the use proposition of web3.

The first learning task I gave was to go to OpenSea and find an NFT they connected with. We built out a slide deck in which each student added a picture of their NFT, wrote a description, and explained why it’s meaningful to them.

Here’s a sample response:

The selections were varied. One student picked an NFT project by their favorite surfer, another because it was about Taylor Swift, and someone else chose an NFT simply because “it just looks cool, and it’s got a really good rarity.”

Next, I shared an informative video about NFTs titled “NFTs, Explained,” which is a thorough summary of the NFTs landscape. The video is entertaining and has the ability to grab young people’s attention. At 17 minutes it is a little longer than most videos I play in class, but the quality of the content makes it an appropriate option for this application.

I wanted to avoid spending numerous class lessons going over NFT terminology, use cases, and controversy. Having one single video that covered most of the basics was a great option.

Afterward, I led a 10-minute discussion about what they saw. I made sure to let students ask questions, share their ideas, and express their concerns about NFTs. Some of their questions were, “Are they bad for the environment”, “Can I make millions of dollars”, and “Canʻt I just right-click save a JPEG?”.

It was important that I honored each of their questions, provided simple fact-based answers, and also encouraged them to research on their own if it was something that I didnʻt have an answer for. It was a great opportunity for students to dig into their wondering minds.

Understand How Web3 Will Impact the Future of Work

The next part of the club was to learn about different work opportunities emerging in web3. Students identified different jobs using a web3 job board. I would recommend finding more current information for this task because the landscape for web3 employment has changed over the past year. In addition, the jobs on that particular job board were last updated three months since I will have posted this.

The point of this exercise was for students to gain an understanding of the type of work available in this emerging marketplace. As a provocation, I used this CBS news report to give some background of what this workplace environment looks like. 

Once students had explored different job types in web3 they were tasked with creating teams. In each team, their assignment was to provide a summary of the job responsibilities along with a link to a sample job description. I gave them the following options for different occupational fields:

  • Art / Design / Creative
  • Software Engineering
  • Marketing & Growth
  • Data & Analytics
  • Finance & Law

Here is one example:

If I were to repeat this exercise I would update it with more recent information about the broader tech job market. There have been large-scale layoffs across tech as well as in the metaverse and blockchain spaces. I would also include more specific examples of how the blockchain is being used in fashion, sports, and music to make the examples more tangible for them.

Understand the Relationship Between Technology and Art

Students benefit from real-life people who are professionals in the fields they are learning about. To help students engage with this learning outcome I reached out to a childhood friend. I first set up a zoom call to explain to him the context of the club. I then invited him to spend 30 minutes telling his story and sharing some of his work.

My friend is a prolific electronic musician, digital artist, and curator. He studied art at the university level, and has worked doing art installations, programming, and creating digital art sculptures. He was the perfect candidate to present to the students on the intersection of art and technology. 

Students were assessed on the learning outcome through a question drafting process. At the conclusion of his presentation, I had the students each write at least one follow-up question that I would send to the artist to be answered. This activity was a way for them to synthesize the information from his presentation and the research we had done in class.

Here are some sample questions:

  • How do you promote your NFTs?
  • Why are most NFTs so expensive?
  • What advice would you give a young artist?
  • At what point did you decide art is what you wanted to do full-time?
  • What software do you use and what do you draw with (tablet, iPad, apple pencil)?

Understand How the Blockchain Empowers Digital Creators

For the last learning outcome, I tapped into my network of professionals again. This time I reached out to Hawaiʻi-based artist Jasper Wong. Jasper has experience as a muralist, brand artist, and lead artist for FOMO MOFO a generative NFT project. The aim of this conversation was to set up students for their final performance assessment of building their own NFT project.

Before the virtual presentation, I had students research the FOMO MOFO NFT project. I guided them to the project website, showed them around the FOMO MOFO discord, and had them read an article in a Hawaii-based teach magazine about the project.

This exposure enabled them to prepare questions ahead of time before meeting the artist. Since they were being tasked with designing a generative NFT project from scratch, this subject expertise would be their main resource for information on how to do this.

Once they completed the virtual meet-up I outlined the parameters of our performance assessment. There would be four different “departments”–art, business, community, and marketing. Students could sign up for any of the four departments and were given tasks to start building.

Here were their initial guiding questions:

  • Art: What will the overall design, theme, and traits be?
  • Business: How will the token be priced and why?
  • Community: How will you engage the supporters of the project?
  • Marketing: What will your plan be to attract interest and sales for the project?

With these guiding questions, they were given the time to explore their ideas and give daily updates on their progress. My job was to provide guidance and suggestions.

As a class, they decided to create the “Sweater Rats” generative NFT project. The design concept was to have each rat have a different sweater trait. To give the project a purpose they agree to have a percentage of the “sales” go to fund warm clothing for the homeless.

In the end, we didn’t have time to actually build the project. Going into it I was transparent with them that our intention wasn’t to actually build this out. We were able to make some sketches of the designs, create a basic website template, and generate a rudimentary business plan for the project.

Bringing Closure to the Club

Their final task was to provide a brief written reflection about how they view the blockchain as a way to empower creators. We had an open discussion in which students shared what they thought about web3 and the blockchain and about whether they had an interest in exploring it some more. 

The results were mixed. Some had an interest in how it could be applied to game design and esports. A few others wanted to pursue digital art and liked that their art could be monetized and sold using cryptocurrency and the blockchain.

The remaining participants found it a useful exploration of the technology and were grateful to have gained a deeper understanding from the club. 

Overall the experience was beneficial. I would definitely repeat it again if I had the chance. Next time I would provide a much broader scope of application considering the changes to the NFT landscape and not focus solely on generative PFPs (profile pictures).

I would also incorporate elements of how the broader web3 tech space has expanded as well. The world of blockchain now includes a variety of digital media including music, film, and animation as well as gaming and writing too. We have also seen an explosion of AI-generated chatbots that can also play an important role in understanding emerging technology trends.

In the future, we need to be providing more opportunities for students to understand the role of the blockchain in an emerging creative economy. A school club is a comfortable starting point with a low barrier to entry. The next iteration is to have these projects and performance assessments included in their subject-specific areas of study like world languages, math, science, and English language arts.

I hope that educators out there can take some of the elements from my experience and use them to implement learning around web3 at their schools. Whether it is a stand-alone project in their class, a club, or just a fun after-school activity, the more opportunities we give young people to explore this technology the more quickly it will be adopted.