Surrounded by half-eaten Chipotle burritos and guzzled soda cans, some 15 local coders were working in teams of three as part in this past weekend’s third annual Philly EdTech Hackathon to design an original application software that would in some way benefit the Philadelphia School District — or wider educational goals.
Following a pre-party at Kensington coworking space Impact Hub Philly on Friday night, the hackathon took place at the Science Leadership Academy in Center City. Participants chose from a range of ideas proposed by local high school students, district employees and fellow hackers. Going along with the hackathon’s informal atmosphere, some teams formed as late as Saturday morning, fueled by a common interest in one particular app idea, while others entered into the contest as a cohesive unit. The apps were inspired by the School District’s release of open data sets last month.
The team behind Actualize.Me took first place honor, with an app that acts as a virtual guidance counselor of sorts, facilitating learning and research initiatives through reward-based challenges. In other words, Actualize.Me aims to motivate students, through various incentives, took take on extra-curricular projects, in the process exposing kids to different career fields.
“The idea of a guidance counselor has been reduced to a minimum at this point, because the budget within high schools can’t really support what a guidance counselor had done 15 years ago,” said Actualize.Me team member Ronny Bernstein.
Bersnstein, along with teammates Corey Kilbane and Abdus Muwwakkil — who all met Saturday morning for the first time — sees the Actualize.Me app as a tool not just for career development, but for self-fulfillment as well.
“Being a ninth grader, you’re building an identity, and should already be recognizing that you can be a professional, and there’s options,” he said. “We’re trying to create a tool for them to dip their toes in.”
As an added bonus, the app will also inadvertently help students build their resumes, as they will have concrete proof of their accomplishments.
“It’s a way to gamify their future. Kids will start documenting their accomplishments early. They will have built themselves essentially a resume, that also can be accredited by the groups that they work with,” said Kilbane.
Second place went to the Online Budget Visualization app, which created a more easily digestible map of the School District’s budget data that was just released. Reading Pal — an app designed to track the books kids read and assess their progress — claimed third place.
Though some clear relationships started, like with other hackathons, the real winner here, of course, is the School District, which is both helped by creative thought about its challenges and could certainly stand to benefit from these draft projects — which will be made available to public as progress continues.
“If [there’s] something that the District wants to follow up on, I think the teams would be excited to do that,” said event co-organizer Christian Kunkel, CEO of edtech software Slate. “A lot of progress was made. We’re definitely looking forward to doing more events in the future.”
The judging panel consisted of the District Chief of Strategic Partnerships Stacy Holland, Kudzoo’s Logan Cohen and National Geographic Learning’s Michelle Julet.
The EdTech Hackathon was created by Code for Philly, Slate and Jarvus, with additional sponsorship from Chipotle, Instacart, Sencha, Chariot Solutions, Kudzoo, and the City of Philadelphia.