Hack Your Way to 21st Century Skills

The rise of automation, outsourcing, and digitization has grown the need for 21st century skill development in the classroom [Innosight, 2012]. Hackathons provide a great way for teachers to integrate 21st century skills into their existing classroom practice. They give students first-hand experience in the 4 C’s: collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking.

During a hackathon, students are given a short period of time to work in teams to create new ideas related to a loosely defined problem. They examine the need and come up with a solution that they will implement and present to principals, teachers, other students, or the community on the final day.

But it can seem pretty daunting to put together a hackathon from scratch. So here are a few key questions to answer from the start:

  1. What age-appropriate challenge will I assign to our class?

Often a blank slate (i.e. “do anything”) is harder to work with than a general area (e.g. get teachers teaching and learners learning). However, you don’t want to be too restrictive (e.g. create a web page about the Boston Tea Party) as this limits creativity.

  1. How long should I run my hackathon?

Hackathons need to fit within the context of your classroom commitments. Too few days (e.g. two days) limits what can be created; yet too many days (e.g. a month) can lead to diminishing returns.

  1. When should I run my hackathon?

To be creative, you need to have mastery over the skills that learners will use during the hackathon. Yet if you schedule it too late in the semester, the class may need to focus on final exams.

  1. How will projects be evaluated?

Do you involve the entire class through popular vote, or do you have some sponsors from industry help with the evaluation? You can break down your criteria into a set of awards (e.g. best presentation, most practical solution, most novel idea).

Want more in-depth help? Visit our Hackathon Toolkit website to sign up for a step-by-step guide, videos, handouts, and even sample press releases.

Also, we’ll a select group of classrooms who sign up for the Hackathon Toolkit and invite them to participate in a SMART-sponsored hackathon throughout the course of the year. We’re sponsoring prizes, SMART products, and someone from SMART to support your event. Simply go to the Hackathon Toolkit page and sign up today! It’s a sure way to make your hackathon fun and memorable for your students.

Already have plans to run a hackathon in your school? We’d love to hear your plans! Tell us all about them at: hackathon@smarttech.com.

Pictured above: Some of the SMART Exemplary Educators who participated in a week-long hackathon to solve the challenge: “Get Teachers Teaching, and Learners Learning.”
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Edward Tse
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About Edward Tse

Dr. Edward Tse is the External Research Program Manager at SMART Technologies. He is responsible for collaborating with the academic research community for creating prototypes, writing papers, and submitting patents related to SMART’s business. Dr. Tse is one of the inventors of the SMART Table, Proximity wake, and 3D Tools for SMART Notebook. He holds over 30 utility patent applications, and has had his research featured in popular media. Lately Dr. Tse has been involved with leading the Hackathon experience to promote 21st century skill development in classrooms.

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