culture / innovation

Future Coders: 2nd Annual Student Hackathon

March 29, 2017

Guest Post – Sachin Aggarwal, CEO

On January 18th Think Research welcomed Mr. Steltman’s River Oaks grade 6 class for our second annual Student Hackathon. What a great day! It’s an excellent opportunity for us to provide some much needed hands on learning and experience to a fully engaged and excited group of future coders.

I wanted to get a sense of what this day means and how impactful it is to our organization as well as for Mr. Steltman’s class. Here is our conversation. Cameron Steltman’s (CS), Joanna Carroll (JC), Chief Operating Officer and champion of this program, as well as Saurabh Mukhi (SM), Chief Technology Officer and official host for the day.

SA – Please introduce yourself!

CS – I’m Cameron Steltman and I’m a grade six teacher at River Oaks Public School in Oakville, ON.

JC – I’m Joanna Carroll, Chief Operating Officer at Think Research.

SM – I’m Saurabh, Chief Technology Officer at Think Research.

SA – Mr. Steltman, how did you get introduced to Think Research?

CS – I heard about Think Research through Joanna Carroll, when I was asked if I would be interested in having my students come on a trip to Think Research to program with their developers. She had seen a segment on CBC’s The National in which some of the things I was doing with my students were featured and it was a great match!

SA – What’s the most important lesson you think the kids take away from a day of coding at Think Research?

CS – I think the students learn so much from the day, but I think if there was one lesson that shines above the rest, it’s that persistence and dedication to working through challenges can pay off in a very real way.

SA – Can you talk about the value of this experience.

CS – The value of this experience goes well above that though. The students are able to see that the computer programming and computational thinking that they’re doing in class have real world applications and have the potential to change the course of their lives. At this age, in grade six, students are old enough to begin to think about their future but still young enough that everything is a possibility.

JC – Think Research understands the importance of teaching coding to our elementary school children. Having the opportunity to supplement what Cameron is teaching them in the classroom, extends well beyond just our tech team. The children’s enthusiasm is contagious and the office is buzzing from the time they walk through the door to the time we are passing them their coats and gift bags at the end of the day.

SM – Having the opportunity to teach a younger generation about the joys of coding helps us appreciate and recall what we enjoy about it. Helping to guide and mentor children helps us develop stronger communication and problem solving skills – we are forced to try new strategies to help kids understand problems and potential solutions to problems that we may take for granted. The day creates a fun and unique experience for the entire team to share our commitment to future coders.

SA – What’s the most interesting comment or observation you’ve received from your students?

CS This experience adds another option for them. As I think back on the day, the best comments were “This was the best field trip”, and “I can do this one day!”

SA – What’s the most interesting comment or observation you’ve received from the IT team/organization?

JC – That in just the few hours we are together we are able to observe every student demonstrate some element of the basic building blocks of learning: logical thinking, problem solving, persistence, collaboration and communication.

SM – It was amazing for our team to see how knowledgeable these young kids are. Their ability understand advanced coding problems at such a young age makes the team feel encouraged about the future.

SA – What do you think is the most surprising thing that the kids learn from this type of exposure to a healthcare tech company?

CS – The students feel so empowered by what they see and learn at Think Research and take that sense of power back with them to the classroom.

SA – What do you think is the most surprising thing that the team learns from this type of exposure to future coders?

JC – The fact that the kids are so knowledgeable about coding without it in the core K to 8 curriculum and how quickly they learn and understand what we do here at Think.

SM – While the coding experience was fun and engaging, the team learned that students became more connected by the stories the developers shared and how they interacted with the kids. It was just as much about how the developers made the kids feel than it was about the learnings themselves.

SA – What’s your favourite memory from the day?

CS I think that my favourite memory of the day would be when I stood back and looked around at all my students, and every single one of them was engrossed in learning and engaged with what they were doing, as a teacher, that felt amazing.

A close second to that would be when I saw my student who just joined us from China this year, sitting with a developer who also spoke Mandarin, and they were having a big conversation, with hand motions, smiles, and learning. This was such a great feeling for me because he was able to be engaged in his own language and through that begin to show off everything he’d learned so far and no longer be held back by the language barrier that we sometimes face in class. All in all, it was an incredible experience and I’m so thankful that we had the opportunity!

JC – Watching one of Cameron’s newest students who is learning English but is most comfortable in Mandarin paired with one of our Mandarin speaking developers.

SM – The excitement in a couple of the students when they learned how to manipulate a webpage to turn it upside down. That was the moment they realized just how powerful this skill-set can be, and I hope it sparked that extra curiosity to take their learning to another level.

Thank you Mr. Steltman, Joanna, Saurabh, the Grade Six class from River Oaks and the entire Think Research team for making our second annual Student Hackathon so much fun. We had a great experience with a group of future coders and look forward to working with Mr. Steltman toward the third annual Student Hackathon!