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Random Hacks of Kindness Jr – Kids Designing Apps to Better Our World

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Non-Profit Organization Holds Hack-a-thons With Students Who Consider how to Help Other Non-Profit Causes

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Patrice Gans, founder and Executive Director of RHoKJr.org, about the great work that her organization does. Random Hack of Kindness Jr. runs hackathon-style events with groups of students in 4th through 8th grades, with a focus on developing ideas for apps that can help local nonprofits in their communities.

What a great way to introduce these young students to the idea of contributing their hearts and minds to a good cause, while also exposed them to coding that can be fun and doesn't have to be hard to learn.

“Using an MIT developed coding tool (http://appinventor.mit.edu/explore/), students will learn the basics of app design, as well as the ideation and brainstorming process required to build a successful prototype mobile application.  This program requires NO prior coding knowledge and is intended as a code-to-learn tool!.” (source: http://rhokjr.org/who-we-are/)

RHoKJr Events

RHoKJr has an event coming up on December 2nd at St. Luke's School in New Canaan, CT (access their upcoming events here: http://rhokjr.org/our-events/).

The ingredients for an RHoKJr hackathon generally include:

  • A place to hold the event that can accommodate 80 or more people working in groups (often a school that volunteers their space)
  • Representatives from local non-profit organizations
  • Mentors: these could be high school students, computer science majors from nearby colleges, industry professionals, etc. Students will work in small groups and each group will require a mentor.
  • Students! Again, these events are for 4th through 8th graders
  • Guest speakers are often a part of the mix

Over the past few years, RHoKJr has hosted 23 hackathons, and worked with over a thousand students.

Students Helping Their Communities

The objective for students at these events is to brainstorm ideas and get some exposure to app development (as opposed to actually developing an app). Students develop an awareness of the importance of helping others, and come up with some great ideas for apps to do just that.

One example that came to full fruition was Elephant GO, a scavenger hunt game, based on the Pokeman Go App. Woodbury Middle School eighth-grader Jack Wolfe developed this app to help raise awareness about the local chapter of Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP). Students painted papier-mâché elephants and attached QR codes to them, which could then be scanned by the app to achieve points. Local newspapers covered this story.

Raising Awareness of the Ease and Benefits of Learning Coding Skills

We discussed the state of coding within the K-12 educational system here in the US. Forward thinking educators have been encouraging the use of simple logic and coding constructs in our schools for decades, going back to Seymour Papert and the LOGO coding platform. Yet here we are in 2017 and everyone is walking around with incredible computing power in their hands, but few schools require some exposure to coding logic as part of their curricula.

We have seen a state, Virginia, move to require “computer science and computational thinking, including computer coding” in their K-12 standards, but they are the first. And this is not the same as embracing some level of coding across various subjects (a missed opportunity IMHO). Fortunately, there are a growing number of efforts from other organizations to help promote awareness of coding, especially for girls, who are generally under-represented in the world information technology.

While schools still have a long way to go to get on board with the power and potential of teaching simple coding to expose students to the logic and pleasure of it, the efforts of organizations like Random Hacks of Kindness Jr are keeping the dream alive! Be sure to support their efforts by following them on Facebook and Twitter!

 

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