One-of-A-Kind Hackathon Around The Corner

April Update: Final Stretch Before TriV Scratch Hackathon – May 27th!

Written by Valerie Freitas

Can a 5 year old participate in a hackathon event like those for adults? 

Yes, they can!  TriV has been preparing for over six months!  Our Scratch Hackathon aims to provide our youth members the experience of popular industry and government hackathon events that are typically only available to high school aged teens and adults but with an educational focus as opposed to competitive.  TriV’s hackathon is also unique in the This is the April update in our blog post series on our Scratch Hackathon preparation.  TriV’s Scratch Hackathon aims to provide our youth members the experience of popular industry and government hackathon events that are typically only available to high school aged teens and adults but with an educational focus as opposed to competitive.  TriV’s hackathon is also unique in the broad age and experience level it addresses of 5 to 17 years old and novice (little to no coding experience) to advanced levels of experience.  The event provides skill development in three areas typically found in hackathons: teamwork/collaboration, computer programming, and presentation/public speaking skills.  An educational focus is accomplished through the use of a self-evaluated performance rubric.  For more information on what a hackathon in and the benefits to be gained by having kids of all ages participate, read more in our Why A TriV Hackathon? blog post.  If you’d like to learn more about the details of our event, practice session progress, and how we’re accomplishing this objective, read on!  Parents of our youth members and other youth educators may find this of special interest, especially if considering organizing or attending events like these in the future.  We hope our sharing about our event can encourage more of these types of events in the future for younger age groups.  If you have any suggestions for us, please submit them in the comments section.

How can this be done?

TriV will be holding its one-of-a-kind hackathon event on Saturday, May 27, 201 at Zoho in Pleasanton, California.  We’ll be using Scratch, the programming language developed by MIT, as the level set programming language used to enable coders of all ages to participate.  Scratch is a visual drag-and-drop programming language that is easy to use, but still incorporates the basic computer programming functions available in more sophisticated programming languages.  Older participants are challenged to provide more complex programming and younger or less experienced coders benefit (inexperience is not age dependent) from seeing what complexity is possible using the same language they are coding in.

Scratch Program By TriV Coder

Hackathon Format and Skill Areas

TriV’s event will follow the same general format of a typical hackathon event: team formation, ideation, collaboration, prototyping/programming, and presentation, but due to participant age range and programming language used, we’ve had to make some adjustments to the format.  Due to our focus on education, the priority for this event is on learning this hackathon process and improving coders’ skills while having fun.

Typical Hackathon Format

Self-evaluation Rubric

In order to help participants develop skills in the identified areas and to implement the event’s educational nature and spirit of collaboration, participants use a self-evaluation form.  The form enables teams to determine how they are doing and measure their progress against desired criteria.  In every area, the greater the effort invested, the greater the point increase towards their total points earned, motivating participants to challenge themselves further.  We also included some “bonus” questions in the list (based on mentor/parent input) to encourage kids to read completely and thoroughly through the self-evaluation sheet. The form gets adjusted between each session to reflect the featured project or make adjustments to what we want to encourage participants to work on based on our experience from the previous practice session.  We also endeavored to increase the overall complexity of the tutorials as we held more practice sessions.

TriV Self-Evaluation Form

Inclusive Programming Activity

Each practice session features a different programming project.  Time management is also an essential aspect of the learning.  Since we are using our one of our weekly coding sessions for practice sessions, we are limited to the time frame of our typical session, roughly 2.5 hours total time.  When you account for time taken up for each child to check in to the session, set up his/her laptop, get some refreshments (we usually have pizza and snacks at our sessions), hear about the featured project of the practice sessions, select partners and read through the self-evaluation rubric, there is not much time left to code.  Teams are reminded to focus on getting a functional basic program that meets objectives and then go back to add enhanced features and customizations later.

At each practice session, we offer “seed” tutorials.  Seed tutorials help to save time and challenge coders to try activities they might not have experience in or otherwise elect to do themselves.  Participants are sorted into four experience levels through registration: novice, beginner, intermediate, and advance.  A description of each is offered below.  These descriptions do not follow any developed standard and are solely defined for purposes of our club event.  While it is difficult to objectively assess youth coder experience levels without developing some kind of test even under the best circumstances, it is often even more difficult for parents when registering to accurately assess their own child’s experience level.  So, we’ve come up with this very general set of descriptions and asked the families to adjust accordingly for future sessions based on how challenging the current session was for their child.  Participants are also divided into three age categories: 5-9 years old; 10-12 years old; and 13 years old and above, allowing different experience levels within each age category while still enabling individual coders to participate with peers.

As you can see from our categories, even coders with no previous experience in Scratch can attend our hackathon practice sessions and qualify for the main event.  TriV has made every effort to make this event inclusive.  However, we do require all registrants at our final event to have attended at least one practice session so that they can be familiar with the format and objectives and know what to expect, thereby maximizing their opportunities for a positive experience at the hackathon.

Coder Experience Level Categories

  1. Novices – no prior experience, has not used Scratch before
  2. Beginners – little experience in Scratch, little understanding of programming concepts
  3. Intermediate – some experience in Scratch, understands basic concepts, e.g. loops, variables
  4. Advanced – extensive practice in Scratch or other programming language, understands nearly all programming concepts

We’ve found paired programming works best

There are two versions of the seed tutorial offered: a basic project version ( for novices/beginners coders) and a more complex project version (for intermediate/advanced coders).  Team formation is encouraged between similar experience levels.  At each practice session, participants are asked to select a different partner then they have worked with at prior practice sessions. This provides them more practice with working with different individuals and developing those team building skills.  A team consists of two people, with a three-member team formed in cases of odd number of attendees.  Paired programming enables each team member to have a greater level of involvement than in larger teams and, due to the nature of Scratch, sharing code between larger teams can be cumbersome.  Instead, coding pairs can choose to work off one computer or choose to share programming tasks and code by Scratch re-mixing or using the Scratch backpack feature.

Participants do not have to use the seed tutorial if they would like to try their hand at coding the project without assistance; however, if they wish to have something to reference or to start from, the seed tutorial serves as a base.  The more of their own customizations and features teams add over and above what is provided in the base tutorial, the more points they earn in their programming score.  At the final hackathon event, however, teams in the 10 years and up categories who are not novices, will be asked to come up with an original project without the use of tutorials.  There will be more time during a full-day event to create their customized enhancements, and it will provide them an opportunity to apply the programming skills they have practiced.

Participants are encouraged to ask for help from each other, other teams, and mentors that are available to help with problem solving and verify points claimed.  We’ve had six practice sessions so far, one each month, where we run participants through the hackathon event format so that they can become accustomed to the learning objectives, develop their skills, and we can make tweaks to the format, operations, and criteria as necessary.  This is a learning experience for all involved!  These hackathon practice sessions are of a very different format then our typical weekly sessions for the remainder of the month which are less structured, more exploratory in nature, and offer multiple programming topics.

Mentors provide added support for coders

Presentations “The Pitch” Builds Public Speaking Skills

Presentations and the development of public speaking skills are an essential part of the hackathon experience.  Teams need to present their project to an audience so that they can earn the points in the presentation skills section of their self-evaluation form.  With 40 or more attendees at each practice session, and allowing for increased attendance at the final event, teams of two coders each, make for large number of teams.  Even if limiting them to 2 minutes each for their pitch, with adding transition time between presentations, means an incredibly lengthy amount of time required to be reserved for presentations at the end of practice sessions and at the event.  Presentations are required as part of the event, so each team must present.  Add to that the youngest coders are at age 5, and you can appreciate how difficult it would be for a 5 year old to sit through hours of presentations.  However, there is benefit to having all the participants see the projects of other teams and watch them present, so that those younger or less experienced, both in programming and public speaking skills can learn and be inspired from those with more experience.

Presentation Types: Fair (middle picture) and formal (end pictures) formats

Fair Format and Multiple Presentation Opportunities

In order to condense the time needed for presentations, while permitting teams to obtain as much public speaking practice as possible, TriV’s hackathon presentation section has been modeled after the science fair format.  All teams will be required to upload their programs to TriV’s hackathon scratch studio ending work on the programming section of the event.  At that time, teams will indicate when they are ready to do their presentation on their program.  They will follow the checklist on their self-evaluation form to ensure they are including everything needed in a good presentation.  At that time, other teams, mentors/volunteers, and other attending parents can form groups around the signaling teams to serve as an audience and hear their presentations.  This allows multiple presentations to be conducted simultaneously and provides teams multiple presentation opportunities to smaller groups.  The benefit is increased practice and less intimidating circumstances for beginner or shy presenters.  Audience members are supportive and encouraging and can provide reminders to presenters if they have forgotten presentation criteria elements.  The aim is practice not penalty.  Hackathon participants get points for their team for serving as both presenters AND they also receive points for serving as audience members for other teams.  A good audience member who is encouraging and helpful is as important as being a good presenter.  It’s a learning opportunity for both presenter and audience member.  Point rewards for both roles has ensured lots of enthusiasm during the presentation section of our practice sessions!  There are formal presentations to be had also.  Out of each age category, the highest scoring team will also do a more formal presentation in front of the entire audience of attendees with full use of audio-visual equipment to project their programs onto the big screens at the front of the event space.  Parents and mentors have already noted an improvement in the quality of coding and “lightning talk” presentations during our usual weekly sessions as a beneficial carry over from our hackathon practice sessions over these past six months.

The Final Event – Fundraising, Fun, Food, and Prizes!

The final event is a full-day event complete with food and prizes!  We’re fortunate to have our event hosted at Zoho’s beautiful facility. Lunch and snacks will be provided also.  Hungry coders need energy!  All participants will receive rewards for participating.  Planned participation rewards are certificates, t-shirts, and TriV USB wrist bands along with other corporate schwag from donating corporations.  Other planned prizes are based on achievement.  While this is not a competitive event, there will be a prize raffle for all participants with the number of raffle tickets received dependent on which score range a team has reached based on their total points.  The higher the total, the greater the number of raffle tickets each individual participant receives, increasing their chances of winning prizes.  Participants will be able to enter the number of tickets they choose for the prizes they select to bid for.  Every participant walks away a winner!

To fund such an event, TriV is fundraising through sponsorships and individual donations.  One fundraising source is through a one-day, 24 hour giving event organized by the East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF) on May 4th called East Bay Gives (EBG).  During this giving event, TriV is participating as one of the fortunate participating non-profits featured on EBG’s platform.  Donations can be made on May 4th or pre-scheduled to be processed later on that date for those who are not available to submit on that day.  For those that can submit on that day and want to help TriV win added cash prizes from EBCF, donors can time their donations according to an hourly schedule based on prizes for that hour.  Consider helping TriV raise the needed funds on May 4th and spread the word to family and friends to help us make this event a big success for our young coders!  You don’t have to be from the Bay Area to participate in this giving event.  Anyone can help out!

If you are with an organization or corporation that would like to help out with sponsorship, corporate schwag or financial donations, or technical mentors/non-technical volunteers for our event, please contact us at trivalleycoderdojo@gmail.com.  We appreciate your consideration!

Other TriV Posts In The Hackathon Series

1) Why A TriV Hackathon?

2) TriV’s Scratch Hackathon Is Now One Practice Session Closer

3) TriV Scratch Hackathon March Update

4) May Update: Last Hackathon Practice Before The Big Day

 

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