The Education Revolution will be coded!

One of the coolest things about working at WearHacks is being able to meet and hang out with hackers and tech enthusiasts at our events. We have a grand ole time at our hackathons. WearHacks hackers come from all walks of life and they continually exceed our expectations with with their intellect, creativity and likeable personality. We’ve laughed till we cried together, dressed up in hilarious costumes and sang and dance to the oldies but goodies. We have the pictures and clips to prove it. Here at WearHacks, we are dedicated to hearing their stories because their backgrounds have all led them to our hackathons. The more we know about our hackers, the better we can serve our community. Each personal story encourages us to champion the innovation in hardware education cause.

Late last year, we had the pleasure to meet three 15 year olds, Nicholas, Timothy and Curtis at our New York hackathon. They’re 10th graders at Staten Island Technical School and after receiving an email about the upcoming hackathon, signed up for their first full-length hackathon. We were overwhelmed to have them join us and we quickly learnt that these young men were impressive. A few days after the NY hackathon, we jumped on a call with them on Google hangout to learn a bit more about their story. What brought them to WearHacks? Did they like it? What did they learn? Who did they meet? Our 45 minute chat really had us not just amazed at these teenagers but also had us thinking about broader topics like innovation in 21st century education and how project-based learning can revolutionise the way we learn.

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Nicholas, Timothy and Curtis teamed up to work on a project that has real-world implications. Imagine sitting in a lecture hall at university or a conference and while you’re doing your best to follow the speaker’s train of thought, you just get lost in a sea of information. What do you do? Do you pretend to understand and nod your head at the right time in hopes to look like the smartest person in the room? Do you bombard the speaker with a ton of questions during the lecture? Neither? Well, this project would allow an audience member to silently and anonymously notify the presenter if they are lost, need clarification or would like to know more about a particular topic. The design interface is really simple. One button labelled “I’m Confused” and the other labelled “I’m interested”. The idea is to improve the exchange of ideas and information. Cool, huh?!

Although nervous at first about being able to have a functioning project at the end of the 48 hours, they managed to get it done in time with the help of their mentor, Gerard. They are so psyched about the project that they have continued to develop their idea post-hackathon.

We started talking about their background and we figured out right away that they represented a new generation of tech enthusiasts, the digital natives. In today’s society, information is available 24/7 and young people are taking full advantage of this in new and exciting ways. For example, Timothy started coding when he was only 10 years old. Coding led him to make his most memorable project to date, a network chat client. That was his first experience building a system that was applicable to real life. Nicholas started learning Javascript when he was in the 6th grade and Curtis started coding in the 7th grade after his father introduced him to iOS development. As you can tell, they each share similar stories. While their parents and family members encouraged their hobbies, formal education left them wanting for more challenges. “I had to learn coding outside of school” lamented Timothy. Thanks to YouTube and Codeacademy, he was able to supplement his education. A similar story with his teammates.

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Two things come to mind. Is there a fundamental problem with the traditional education system when coding isn’t a major part of schools’ curriculums? If you let Nicholas, Timothy and Curtis tell it, there definitely is. They all advocate for more project-based Computer Science classes beginning at the elementary school level. These 10th graders aren’t alone in this belief. Also, we need educational spaces for go-getters like Timothy, Nicholas and Curtis to explore their interests. Spaces like Agile Learning Centres. Agile Learning is a movement that is taking storm in education circles. It aims to do away with traditional learning that places emphasis on rote memorisation in exchange for a flexible approach that understands that situations and interests change and one must adapt. Agile Learning communities advocates self-directed learning, an approach similar to the way Timothy, Nicholas and Curtis learned all things programming.

Hackathons in their own way are agile learning centres. Particularly at WearHacks, we tell hackers to “make your own magic”. Hackers are free to create, explore and imagine new possibilities and unique solutions to solve our most pressing issues in the world or just to make something purely for entertainment. Hackers might walk away from a hackathon exhausted after pulling in all those all-nighters but they also leave with a new sense of self and a set of skills that can be applied in many different scenarios. While it may take awhile for traditional learning institutions to catch up with the times, Timothy, Nicholas, Curtis and many other youngsters around the world are taking their education into their own hands.

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