Hacking Sessions - iterating until it's right

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Today we kicked off Hacking Sessions 2015. Saturday morning with sixty kids in a room brainstorming ideas. Soon they'll settle on teams and projects and we'll be off for a semester of exploring CS and tech.

The next couple of weeks will be a little chaotic with groups shifting, mentors figuring out which groups to work with and us, the instructors launching each team on its way.

This is our third year running Hacking Sessions. We're setting things up to have student teams exploring a project, technology, or tool. Each team will have more experienced students mentoring them. In some cases the mentors will also be new to the topic. Supporting both the hackers and mentors are our instructors.

I'm pretty happy with our model but it took us a couple of iterations to get here.

Our first go round was Fall 2013. We had just started CSTUY and wanted to get something started prior to launching a summer program. SumAll provided us with space and we were able to attract a small cadre of kids. We had a few of our older students as teaching assistants and ran the program with a mix of instruction and projects. Over the year we saw that a Saturday program presents a number of challenges:

  • Students have other obligations on Saturdays such as athletic teams. This can lead to inconsistent attendance.
  • SATs also kill attendance
  • You can't count on the participants to work between the sessions.
  • Lateness can be an issue early on a Saturday morning.
  • Once a week makes building a community a challenge.
  • kids have enough classroom learning during the week. Saturday should be a change of pace.

We learned a lot that year and ran V2.0 the following fall. Second time around we had the advantage of bringing in kids from our summer program to seed the culture. We also knew we wanted to move to more of a project / mentor based model but due to space restrictions couldn't really get to where we wanted to be.

That changed halfway through when SumAll moved to larger offices. By the end of the year, I think we worked out most of the kinks. We figured out how to get the kids into teams and pointing in the right direction as well as how to find the right mentors and provide them with support. The only thing we weren't happy with was that the mentors didn't have enough time to work on their own projects.

Now we're in V3.0. Thanks to our kickstarter, we're fully funded and somehow word seems to have gotten out. Numbers are way up and I think we've finally gotten the model down.

As with anything new, it takes time and revisions to get things right but as long as one leaves the kids with a net positive and as long as one can look at oneself with a critical eye, you eventually get there.

Looking forward to a great year.

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