Hackathon Learning: Students Teaching Students

Last year, Kent student Sheila designed a game called “Order of Planets.” The first task? Students had to read about the planets. That complete, the students played a Jeopardy-like game with answers unveiled on an interactive display. Her game was just one of many that other students at the Kent School District near Seattle, Washington designed as part of the Kent Technology Expo.

For nine years, the expo has been a showcase for students to demonstrate the integration of technology and what they’ve learned. We had the opportunity to partner with students on their hackathon to design games – games that would enable and help other students learn skills and concepts they might be struggling with. An inspired example of students teaching students. They then demonstrated their games to the thousands of participants of the expo, showing how their game solved a problem or built on skills. In other words, helping them prepare for their future.

We started out helping the students learn how to use SMART Notebook to build their own lessons. Dave LaBine, Director of Education Software, and our engineers met with the students to teach them but by the end, they were teaching us. I remember one lesson in particular where the student had used changes in foreground and background colors to create interactions that confirmed correct answers and left the answers hidden when the answers were incorrect. It was a creative way to use very primitive features to deliver a rich experience. This just shows you that through creative thinking and discovery that anything is possible. It inspired us to stop thinking about complex solutions to our hard technical problems but to try to simplify the hard problems by looking at them differently.

We also brought a number of early products for the students to try. They gave us a ton of feedback to make those products better. They were very honest with us about the good and bad. The great thing about the whole hackathon process was their own desire to make their own work as well as ours better. They did what it took to improve their lessons whether it was through their own discovery process or providing constructive feedback to us by explaining why some things were difficult so we could help them with a solution or enhance our product.

The other thing that really impressed us was how they approached building lessons for other students. They made the effort to learn the topics well enough to give the lessons, thought about how their fellow students would use them, and adjusted the lessons based on the other students’ feedback and their observations of how they used the lessons. It was amazing to see their passion and the pride they had in their own work drive them to develop these 21st century skills on their own.

Kent School District has a history of empowering students with technology. My SMART colleague, Bruce Prang, and I are beneficiaries of a computer lab at Kent Meridian High School in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It inspired us to pursue a career which back then barely existed. It’s great to see the tradition of technology empowerment continue throughout the generations at Kent. When these students become successful professionals, I hope they return to pass their experiences on to the next generation of Kent students.

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Tim Toyoshima
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About Tim Toyoshima

Tim is the VP of Software Development. Tim made valuable contributions to Amazon and Microsoft prior to joining SMART. He lives in Seattle with his family.

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7 thoughts on “Hackathon Learning: Students Teaching Students

  1. A wonderful article and I could watch the video over and over again. It is so amazing what children can produce when given the freedom and the opportunity to collaborate. Fantastic!

  2. We did something similar but had to stop when new laptops were issued to students. Because we had to connect a board to the unit, downloading Notebook to each laptop was prohibited. So now, students use my laptop, use the board and laptop to design their Notebooks, and we share and learn together.

  3. My kids kinda had their own hackathon when we were trying Smart Notebook 15.1 and they loved the experience. So many ideas came out that day and I sent them by email to someone at Smart…almost every week they ask me if I got a response and ask me to play the games to see if the improvements were made based on their suggestions. It is wonderful as an educator to see that level of engagement from students.

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