How We Ran a Student Hackathon Online — THE Journal

Destiny Viator

Coding How We Ran a Student Hackathon Online This education provider that teaches students to code ran its first hackathon virtually and drew more than a hundred young participants in a two-day event. The Coronavirus-induced lockdown has not only made the classroom go digital, but also onsite events too, such […]

Coding

How We Ran a Student Hackathon Online

This education provider that teaches students to code ran its first hackathon virtually and drew more than a hundred young participants in a two-day event.

The
Coronavirus-induced lockdown has not only made the classroom go
digital, but also onsite events too, such as hackathons that are
adapting to the situation and switching to an online format.
YoungWonks’
recent kids’ hackathon — its first and entirely online version —
shows how this can be achieved.

YoungWonks, an
after-school coding program headquartered out of California, has
always used technology to come up with solutions for real-life
problems. That approach isn’t just part of the curriculum being
taught to the students who go through the program, but it has become
a motto of sorts for the staff as well. Which explains why YoungWonks
didn’t hesitate to shift during the pandemic to entirely online
events.

In June, we hosted
our bi-annual CCI (“Code Create Innovate”) Fair,
essentially an online project fair similar to a school science fair.
That event saw participation from 100-plus student exhibitors showing
off their engineering and coding projects. Students and parents from
around the world could check out the exhibits and ask the presenters
questions in real-time on video chat.

So it only made
sense that we would also host our first-ever hackathon entirely
online. Called “HackDay
July 2020
,” the hackathon took place on July 25
and 26, 2020, drawing more than a hundred students on both days.

Hackathon Basics

A hackathon is a
coding marathon — typically spanning a weekend — where people
collaborate to create projects. At student hackathons, not only do
students get together to build things, but they also often attend
workshop presentations that can help them hone their programming
skills and have fun at the same time. While hackathons include the
word “hack,” that doesn’t mean students are “hacking”
servers. The word hack here denotes coding so as to build apps, games
and websites. These hackathons are safe, supervised and educational.

In our case,
YoungWonks’ teachers, with support from the company’s software
development team, have always pursued superior student engagement, be
it one-on-one or group online instruction. We wanted the same for our
first hackathon. The two-day event consisted of a coding challenge
and a theme-based project segment. We opened it to YoungWonks
students across three age groups: below and up to 9 years; ages 10
and 11; and ages 12 and above.

The Coding
Challenge

Aravind Athreya,
instructor and developer at YoungWonks, had clear directions for the
software solution he was going to create: The platform would be an
extension of the student portal, which would act as the interface for
the Coding Challenge component of the hackathon. (That portal is
built on school management software developed by EdOptim,
which is owned, alongside YoungWonks, by technology company
WonksKnow.)

“The idea was
to have an interface that would allow an instructor to post questions
one-by-one,” he explained. “After each question, students
would have to submit their answers within a certain deadline.
Students would be able to share multiple answers and everyone on the
portal would see the number of lines of code posted by each student
until the time ran out, after which all the answers would be
displayed on the screen.”

To test the
interface, we did a dry run a few days before the hackathon and asked
several students to answer coding questions in real-time.

The Questions for
the Coding Challenge

Rohit Budania, also
an instructor and developer at YoungWonks, was entrusted with the job
of coming up with questions for the coding challenge.

“While drawing
up the questions, no priority was given to students from any one age
group. This is because some students are young and yet they know a
lot. Keeping this in mind, it was decided to have all students answer
the same set of questions,” he explained. The main objective: to
test students’ basic programming knowledge.

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