By Anya Kamenetz
This past weekend, EDesign Labs, a nonprofit dedicated to making sure K-12 innovation incorporates the insights of teachers and students, held a hackathon at the Center for Social Innovation in New York City, part of a National Day of Civic Hacking sponsored by Intel.
EDesign Labs was seeded by the Ford Foundation and is currently hosted at New Visions for Public Schools, a nonprofit (funded by the Gates Foundation and the NYC and federal departments of education) focused on launching new schools.
“We proposed a tough challenge,” said director Hsing Wei, whose computer science, art, and education background includes Harvard, MIT, Parsons, and Eyebeam. “‘How do we design learning for a future of computational thinkers, effective storytellers, and empathetic inventors?’”
The 100-plus hackathon attendees formed up to eight-person teams including designers, developers, local public and charter school teachers, and even a few high school students. “The teams were bigger than we expected, I think because education is a hard problem,” says Wei.
Over two days at the Center for Social Innovation, teams built or mocked up different apps to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and participation in classrooms. There was an ultra-simple, shareable video app called Off the Page; MiniStories, a comic-book like tool where students could create characters and produce short narratives; and DataCrunch and Data Hunt, tools meant to help students understand and visualize data.
The winner of the day was a science app called WavePool that turned the Microsoft Kinect interface into a tool for visualizing and manipulating soundwaves in real time. Do you know what a wave the width of your outstretched arms sounds like compared to one that’s seven centimeters wide? WavePool can show you. The team received a mentorship meeting with DreamIt Ventures, and just as important, an opportunity to pilot in two real-life classrooms.