Largest Hackathon Yet Has Students Dreaming Big Aboard the Intrepid

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The word “hacker” might conjure thoughts of the villain in a futuristic action movie, but to these kids, it’s a point of pride. As part of NYC’s historic Computer Science for All initiative, 225 middle and high school students came to battle it out at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in the NYC Department of Education’s largest hackathon ever. Their mission? To design mobile apps that would help museum guests navigate the Intrepid’s vast collection and expansive exhibits. The event focused on the prototyping phase of the design process, giving the students a unique deep dive into the user experience and creating testable builds.

The students collaborated with one another by brainstorming and researching, and then using coding software to achieve their objectives. Students participated in the design process by getting peer feedback on their projects. To add to the excitement, there were two competitions going on simultaneously, one for middle school and another for high school. With school spirit on the line, the students pounced on each task.

Many of the kids were excited about the prospect of getting an early start in a prospective career choice. When asked if coding was something she thinks her peers might use in the future, Maria, a bespectacled 9th grade student from The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx, answered, “most likely – especially me because I want to be a web designer.”

Kingston, from John Dewey High School, also saw the hackathon as a gateway to a brighter future. He talked about the possibility of trying to find a job in app design, “then I’ll have the skills from today to do it,” he said, before putting the final touches on his app design sketch.

The students were not the only people who were excited by the hackathon. The teachers who escorted them were just as thrilled – and competitive. “Teamwork, resilience, brainstorming, and planning,” explained Donald, an English and Computer Science teacher, from Wings Academy High School, when asked what skills his students were going to gain from the hackathon. “All kinds of skills you need when you think about computer science.”

When asked about his hackathon experience, New School for Leadership and the Arts middle school teacher, Nathaniel, eagerly shared his opinion. “It’s going great. The kids are really excited about it. The setting … you couldn’t ask for more. They’re looking at all the model planes and all the exhibits; you can see their eyes lighting up.” Nathaniel went on to explain that while his students did not have mobile app experience he was not afraid that would deter them from producing great work. “They’re really excited to show what they can do.”

Marissa Shorenstein of AT&T, who helped fund the initial launch of hackathons and student engagement opportunities as a part of the Software Engineering Program, also attended. She said that they were “so gratified” to see how their initial investment had transformed into the expansive CS4ALL program now providing computer science education to students across the city. If you’re as inspired as AT&T, consider joining our ever-growing list of generous funders who support NYC’s future leaders.

READ MORE at NY1: Teens Work to Develop Prototype for Intrepid Mobile App, at Largest City Public School Hackathon Ever

David Belsky