How can educators encourage young children’s interest in coding and app development?
The College of Education & Human Development’s Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence faced this question head on when it hosted the Learn Play Do Hackathon, a two-day event that brought together local elementary school students, their teachers, STEAM-focused community programs and college students with varying degrees of coding expertise to design music-related apps.
“We wanted to design an intergenerational experience so students from kindergarten to college could be included in connected-learning activities,” said Dana E. Salter, Crim Center associate director who coordinated the event. “It’s not just about learning to code; it’s about learning how to think and design with coding and other tech skills, new hard and soft skills, learning how to come up with new ideas and having those conversations between different age and affinity groups. Before the end of the hackathon, all the students were taking on the identities of innovators, creators, coders and mentors.”
Volunteers from Jumpstart and TEEMS AmeriCorps – service-oriented organizations housed in the Crim Center – and Panther Hackers, a Georgia State student group dedicated to teaching people how to code, helped children from Woodson Park Academy, Usher Elementary and Orange You Glad We’re Kids homeschool program brainstorm ideas for music-related apps. “I wanted them to start with Post-It notes and pencils because anyone – any parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, teacher or friend – can grab pen and paper and start thinking about design,” Salter said.
Then, the coding began. Students and volunteers worked together to make the ideas from their brainstorming session into apps someone could use on their mobile devices. The Panther Hackers, TEEMS AmeriCorps and Jumpstart volunteers led the students through the planning and design thinking phase for their app development. “Coding and technology all emerge out of culture and context, and it’s our job to make sure all cultures and contexts are given the opportunity to develop, remix and innovate with code,” Salter said.
In between coding their music apps and learning the different parts that make up a computer, students had the opportunity to learn more about music and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. Sam Daniel, CEHD PC systems specialist lead, gave each group of students the opportunity to look at various computer parts to see how the hardware and software work together to make a computer work properly. And Georgia Teach doctoral researcher Douglas Edwards gave the students access to Ear Sketch, a web-based application that allows students to create their own music from a library of sounds while learning to code.
Crim Center Director Brian Williams – also known as Dr. Science (above right) – and Ryan Kilgore, founder of the Kilgore Music Foundation and saxophonist for Stevie Wonder, showed students how to create instruments with simple, everyday objects and explored music terminology or “codes” – such as vibration, tone and pitch – using PVC pipe and tuning forks.
While their students were coding and learning about music, the teachers attended a simultaneous hackathon experience. Representatives from GoodieNation led teachers through design thinking principles and helped them learn how to apply them to create their own app to address an issue they see in their work.
Students also participated in hands-on activities with the STE(A)M Truck, a mobile innovation lab that brings a combination of STEM and arts activities to local schools and programs. Here, students had to fold construction paper into a shape that would allow it to fly from the bottom of the wind tunnel to the top.
On the hackathon’s second day, each group “pitched” or described their apps in detail and demonstrated how they worked. “You can type in any song or artist and it’ll tell you more information,” said nine-year-old Aiden Goforth (above center) about the app his group created. “And you can play a game that gives you one minute to guess the song.”
“The kids who came learned about public speaking, working as a team and problem solving,” said Giovannti Hale, a freshman computer science major and AmeriCorps member who volunteered at the hackathon. “The best part was seeing them come up with creative ideas and incorporating something they can use in their everyday lives.”
Salter is planning two more hackathons this year – one in June and October – to build on the success of the first one and give more students experience with coding.
“The goal of the hackathon series is to focus on groups that are not usually at the table for these kinds of experiences and connect them to the many resources – volunteers and programs in the metro Atlanta area – so that all involved can learn, play and do,” she said.
Special thanks to the Hackathon’s funders and sponsors:
- The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
- Nancy’s Pizza- Midtown
- Gabriela McNicoll (sponsorship and photography)
- Angela Turk, Nicola Allen and Claire Miller (CEHD Communications)
- Google Fiber
Special thanks to the Hackathon’s incredible volunteers/supporters:
- Vanessa Pérez-Topczewski, Program Director, TEEMS
- Nishona Curry, Executive Program Director, JumpStart Atlanta
- Dream Multimedia Group/Aric Thompson
- GoodieNation/Joey Womack
- TEEMS AmeriCorp
- Kerry Abner/INTECOO GROUP
- EarSketch/Douglas Edwards
- Ryan Kilgore Foundation
- Dr. Science/Brian Williams
- X. Eyeé
- Eduardo Jose Paco Mateo
- Sian Morson and friends
- Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence interns
- STE(A)M Truck