Hacking for Good: #EdAppHack Brings Together Students, Teachers and Programmers—and Everyone Learns

EdAppHack 2014

On the path to solving the world’s greatest problems, there are challenges that are too big for any one organization to tackle. Only together can a community advance. One such complex concern is the transformation of education. In 2014, ORION came together with the community to address the issue in a new way at #EdAppHack. A two-day hackathon connected high school students, teachers and community mentors to test drive the classroom of the future.

In the MaRS auditorium in downtown Toronto, more than 200 high school students, teachers and volunteers are working feverishly at tables laden with laptops. They have just two days to create an app, and the deadline for the pitch competition is getting closer by the minute.

They’re at #EdAppHack—the first event of its kind in Canada to be driven by high school student–led solutions—organized by Toronto District School Board (TDSB) teachers Joseph Romano and Brandon Zoras. They’re supported by a unique community of partners, each contributing according to their expertise: MaRS Discovery District’s space and startup roots, Humber College’s computer science mentors, and ORION connecting them to the cloud resources and content they need. The goal: to promote a new paradigm of self-directed, engaged learning and foster technological skills in students.

Romano and Zoras created #EdAppHack as a way of giving students both a chance to identify problems in the education system and the skills they need to solve them.

“We want the students to develop a technical skill set and explore a new way of thinking about learning,” says Romano. Providing the students an opportunity to practise inquiry-based learning in a non-classroom setting was key.

“We’ve learned a lot about computer science and programming in school, but coming to an event like this actually allows us to put those skills to work,” says Kirill Kozlov, one of a group of Grade 12 students from William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute in Toronto. He and his group developed an app to foster communication between teachers and students.

Kozlov says the event was about more than just having a successful pitch and a working prototype at the end of the weekend.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to take part in an event like this, because it will prepare us for the future,” he says. “Technology is fundamental to everything we do now, and the skills we’re learning here are applicable across disciplines.”

Those transferable skills are a fundamental takeaway, says Joseph Wilson, senior education strategist at MaRS Discovery District. “Employers are looking for people with strong teamwork and communication skills and the confidence to take risks. The structure of a hackathon allows kids to practise those things in a safe environment.”

“The things that allow students to flourish in an event like this and then back at their schools are connections to other people and access to information,” says Wilson. “That’s where ORION has really helped—by showing the value of connectivity, and connecting these kids at TDSB and school boards around Ontario to the wealth of information that’s available.”

ORION connects our communities both through a physical network and by working with them on important issues. Sponsoring events like #EdAppHack helps foster the collaboration that is crucial to advancing new ideas and ensuring Ontario stays at the forefront of innovation.