Archive for December, 2012

Random Hacks of Kindness Returns to Hartford!

The following is a guest post by Patrice Gans, a Technology and Montessori School Teacher from Newton, CT, who was part of a winning team in the recently concluded Random Hacks of Kindness Hartford event, focused around challenges in the Sanitation space as part of the World Bank’s Global Sanitation Hackathon.

Highlights of the Hartford event can be seen here:

RHoKHartford from Under Consideration on Vimeo.

On Saturday, December 1, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the intersection of technology and social good when I participated in the Global Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) event, at Trinity College.  As a K-8 Computer Science teacher, I had anticipated that I would attend the event as an observer, but instead, found myself quickly immersed in the activities.

The first step for my group was the selection of the problem definition we wished to tackle. I found myself drawn to one of the featured sanitation problem definitions from the World Bank’s Sanitation Hackathon problem set. Thankfully, my desire to work on a project aimed at helping girls was also shared by fellow participant and Trinity College student, Pauline Lake.

During the initial brainstorming process, a representative of RHoK, Elizabeth Sabet from Second Muse (http://www.secondmuse.com/), suggested we touch base with other RHoK events that might be simultaneously working on the same challenge.   We managed to track down teams from DC and New York and connect with them remotely.  It was an interesting experience to hear how others were tackling the same problem and reinforced the potential magnitude of our collective impact.

We also had the good fortune to speak with the expert in Washington, DC who had proposed the problem. In addition to explaining the details of the project (the introduction of menstrual health education and gender-friendly sanitation facilities in Cameroon http://www.sanitationhackathon.org/sanitation-girls-education-empowerment), she also clarified the requirements for the App (monitoring girls’ attendance at schools after implementing gender-friendly sanitation facilities) and further explained how she envisioned the local NGO’s implementing this technology.

After the initial discussions were concluded, we returned to brainstorming solutions, then worked up a prototype and diligently debugged our App.  Designing the App entailed determining the components, the layout, the code, the logo and the name. I was a novice App Inventor programmer (having taken my first App programming class this past summer with Trinity Professor, Ralph Morelli), so Pauline took the lead.

While designing the App, I envisioned how my own students would tackle the task.  Independent by nature, many of them would initially shy away from collaborating, thus missing out on the benefits of working within a group.  Computer programming presents the perfect opportunity for collaboration, as each person brings a unique talent to the process.  For example, in the case of my students, some excel at drawing, others have a firmer grasp on the intricacies of App inventor, and others’ personal strengths lie in their communication skills.  Software development is indeed a group effort.  I am eager to share this insight with my students.

I also want to share with them the opportunity to work on an application that will be used to help others.  To this end, I am happy to report that, on Saturday, May 4, I will be hosting the first ever Random Hacks of Kindness Junior at the Fraser Woods Montessori School.  The objective of the daylong event is to show students that, as technology creators, computing can  be more than a media and entertainment outlet – it can be used a tool for change.

The app Pauline and I created at Trinity, Empowering Girls, will track the attendance of girls in Northern Cameroon schools before and after the implementation of gender-sensitive sanitation facilities. We were driven and motivated by the knowledge that our program would be put to good use.

When duplicating Saturday’s event with students in grades 4-8, I will definitely stress how their participation is part of a bigger effort.  Attending RHoK Hartford, helped to solidify other objectives as well; the need to come supplied with student-friendly problem definitions, inspiring user stories, and, of course, plenty of refreshments.

My first experience “hacking for humanity” was very inspiring, both as a K-8 Computer Science teacher and as a humanitarian endeavor; which, unbeknownst to most, can actually go together!  I am convinced that my students will come away with similar feelings.  I can’t wait for May!

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