Kimball Union Academy TECHplusHack#

This weekend I spent a little over 24 hours at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, NH for their TECH+hack. It was a hackathon for the high school students here, where they were encouraged to not only build apps, but also hardware systems or conduct an experiment. Essentially their challenge was to connect their other interests to anything Tech. Many of the students tackled problems they had no idea how to get started with. A few had some programming experience, but many were just getting started and relied on the tutorials offered during the hack. It was really cool to see how excited to learn and fearless about failing the students were. Their projects varied from hobbies, to improvements for the school, to just exploring curiosities.

After the twenty-four hours of work, at the end of Sunday Brunch at the school, the students presented the results of their projects. Two projects were related to arts-based capstones: laser cutting for a hand made guitar and designing a fire background that could be integrated with Kinect to give the effect of a dancer on fire. The school is located in a remote area, so the cell reception isn’t great; two students build a cell phone reception booster. One young woman built a website that could track cross country runners as they worked their way through the wooded course.

I spent a lot of time with a pair of girls who wanted to build a GPA tracking app. One had a little programming experience in python as a result of the Lady Hack club that my friend who invited me to the hack starts. The other had none. By the end of the hack they had a command line program written in python that could take in a schedule, the syllabus information for each class, scores for each class and generate appropriate reports. It could also save information and reload it later. They even had time to have another friend test it for them to see what they should fix or clarify in their user interface. At the end their presentation was amazing. A few times they hit walls in trying to get different things working… and tears of joy when they figured it out. It was rewarding to watch them so excited to learn.

One young man impressed me a lot. He came to the hack primarily to learn. He is going to college to study computer science next year, but hasn’t had a lot of CS coursework at the school. He saw that the hack would include a class on web design and another on html and css basics and that was his primary motivation for participating. He built a personal website for an idea he and some friends had as his own project and based on the course on a programming environment called Processing, helped with the dancer-on-fire project as well.

A few of the projects were really fun: a light up tie, floppy drive orchestra, and a video of a person interacting with his shadow based on using a green screen. Some were very practical: a computer stand with speakers and fans and a 3D printed computer cable management stand.

Overall, I’m really glad I chose to attend. At first I was a little hesitant, I’ve never participated in a hackathon before and although I work with code often, I’m much more of an algorithm person than a software developer. I shouldn’t be surprised as teaching is always a great way to learn, but this definitely boosted my own confidence and assured me that I want to look for a hackathon to participate in soon.