A Recap of Education Hack Day


We came, we saw, we hacked

The weekend before last, roughly 70 software designers, developers, makers, and educators convened at Digital Harbor High School for an Education Hack Day. The mission was simple: listen to problems sourced by teachers from around the world, pick a dozen or so to tackle, and form teams around those problems that would each come up with and execute a creative solution to solve them.

Ideas were pitched and teams were formed on Saturday morning. Throughout the day, we setup some breakaway workshops that would allow for 1 or 2 members from each team to leave the working team for an hour and quickly learn how to use a software API or how to pitch the judges on Sunday. We kicked everyone out of the school around Midnight on Saturday and reconvened at 8am on Sunday. The mood on game day was a bit more intense. With just hours before a functional demo had to be presented to a panel of judges, you could tell that people were fighting distraction to stay in the zone.

Watch a Video Recap of the Event

Sunday Presentations

At 4pm on Sunday, presentations began. Judging the presentations was an eclectic but versed group of educators, ed-focused investors, policy makers and more. We were fortunate to have the following judges at our event:

Frank Bonsal, GP at New Markets Venture Partners,
Matt Van Italie, CAO of Baltimore City Schools, formerly with KIPP Schools and also McKinsey,
Brian Eyer, Principal at Digital Harbor High School,
Tom “TK” Kuegler, GP at Wasabi Ventures,
Tom Murdock, Founder at Moodlerooms,
Bill Ferguson, State Senator for Maryland, and
Scott Messinger, City Schools Teacher & Ed Tech Founder.

Each team had to demo something. It didn’t have to be pretty but we wanted to see something demoed and not just a powerpoint of what it might be. Teams were judged on 4 main points:

  • Does it work?
  • Is it a good idea with a good problem/solution fit?
  • Does it show a well-designed experience and execution?
  • Holistically, is their a ‘wow factor’?

Our Teams

Digital Harbor (1st Place)
Built by: Andrew Coy, Jonathan Julian, Ronin Wood, and Donald Abrams
Digital Harbor is a safe application that is installed on students’ iPads in lieu of Safari that enables teachers to “push” a list of web urls to all the iPads in a set. The app allows students in the class to browse those sites, but no others.

Pluck (2nd Place)
Built by: Lokesh Dhakar and Bryan Connor
Pluck lets you choose content from a web page that you want to share, and it hides everything else on the page. In a couple of clicks and the less than ten seconds, you’ll have a plucked version of a page ready to share with friends. All of this happens in the browser, no clunky software to install.

Pedante (3rd Place)
Built by: Jess Gartner, Karen Shea, Robert Earle, Edmund Kemokai, David Robson, Andy Hlavka, Joe Manko, and Eddie Hermoso
Pedante allows teachers to upload videos of their own teaching, then mark events within the video that illustrate specific classroom skills, such as “positive reinforcement”. Other teachers can search for keywords and view several video clips that show examples of this skill. Pedante helps teachers improve their classroom skills by watching other teachers in action.

ParentConnect (4th Place)
Built by: Eliot Pearson, Mark Headd, Heather Mills, and Mike Brenner
ParentConnect takes the pain out of scheduling parent-teacher conferences by allowing a teacher to go online and create an availability schedule, then allowing a parent to confirm their end of the appointment over a toll-free, touch-tone phone. Logo by Andy Mangold!

Sign up for Parent Connect »

BoardSpeak (5th Place)
Built by: Ted O’Meara, Alex MacDonald, and Avery Erwin-McGuire
Boardspeak is an AAC application; it provides image-to-speech for autistic individuals, stroke patients, and other individuals with cognitive disabilities. It is device agnostic to match many different use cases. Boardspeak is also free.

CheckPlus (6th Place)
Built by: Andy Mangold, Anthony Mattox, Josh Hepworth, and Kate Bladow
A beautifully designed web app that acts as a bit of a to-do “checklist” for students, keeping track of all sorts of things like assignments, group meetings, money for lunch, etc. It also has a view for teachers that lets them see when students have checked off items related to their classwork.

Baltimore School Watch
Built by: Tom Smith, John Baldo, Robert Douglas, Tim Collins, Jon Smalletz, Amy Smith, and Henry van Wagenberg
A dashboard for the city of Baltimore that visually compares all the city schools in one place. It’s a “US News and World Report” ranking system and map that includes publicly available test scores, student ratings, and other vital data.

What’s Due?
Built by: Shawn Grimes, Stephanie Grimes, Jackie Parto, and Rahul Khorjekar
“What’s Due?” is an assignment tracker where teachers can enter in assignments and due dates and have reminders emailed to parents or delivered as push messages to a companion student app.

Built by: Todd Blatt, Marty McGuire, and Amy Hurst
Toader was a mix of a hardware and software product. It allows you to customize the traditional Vietnamese frog instruments that let you rub a mallet over the “back of a frog” and create a unique tone. By customizing it, you can specify on a computer how you want the wave on the back to look and produce unique sounds.

Hey, Teacher
Built by: Jolyon Terwilliger, Yuebo Wang
Hey, Teacher! is a virtual hand-raising app for the classroom designed to ensure no student is left behind. Hey, Teacher! allows students to submit their question for assistance via the App from their desk without interrupting the Teacher and provides the teacher with an up-to-date queue of students who need assistance in the order received. Logo by Rebecca Slogeris.

Some Final Thoughts

The event was an experiment on many different levels. Personally, this was the first time I participated in an event I was organizing. Since it was structured as a competition of sorts, I don’t think it passes the sniff test to participate in a competition that I’ve setup. It also makes it incredibly difficult to manage day-of-event logistics while you’re head-deep in product design.

Another experiment was the intentional exclusion of the “business people” from the product development teams. Instead, we replaced them with teachers. From my research in EdTech, it seems that too many products are being developed by business people and not with the input of the customers, which in this case are the educators. I wanted to try and fix that on a micro level by the replacement. But, if the intent of the event is to potentially start new companies, it’s equally important to include business-minded folks that can help answer questions on market viability, product placement and branding.

There was a common frustration throughout the weekend with the lack of a consistent internet connection. We were fortunate to have BTS donate 3 WiMAX modems to our event to subsidize the school’s wifi that blocks 95% of the internet. Unfortunately, this still wasn’t a sufficient result. My choice of having the event in public high school was because I wanted the teams to be in the environment of an educator, specifically an inner-city public school. I wanted us to feel the constraints they feel, which in this case were the constricted internet and uncomfortable temperature of a seemingly broken climate-control system. Looking back, it’s important to recognize this environmental influence but there are some fundamental necessities, like solid WiFi, that need to be in place for a weekend hackathon.

I was really impressed with the outcome from the weekend. There are a large handful of truly marketable products that were developed and small but passionate community of educators, principals, and investors that are all interested in helping make that happen. I didn’t expect folks to reinvent curriculum this weekend but I wanted to put the right problems and people in the room to show that there’s a viable opportunity to build education technology products here in Baltimore.

Finally, a HUGE Thanks To…

Voxeo Labs (Tropo), New Markets Venture Partners (especially Frank Bonsal III and Elizabeth Chou), Digital Harbor High School (especially Principal Eyer, Andrew Coy, and Nicole DiVito), Media Temple, Pillsbury Law, ImagineK12 Incubator, DonorsChoose.org, Wasabi Ventures (especially Tom Kuegler), PB Works, TestSoup, Ignite Baltimore’s Ignition Grant, Intridea, Kickboard, 4.0 Schools, Edukwest, ETC, GBTC, Campfire Apps, Cloudmine (especially Ilya Braude), Rosenberg Martin, Digital Harbor Foundation, BTS, SAIC, and the countless number of educators that participated online.

Additional recaps of the event:

DHHS - Outside

On November 12th + 13th, 2011, a bunch of developers and designers will be getting together at Digital Harbor High School in downtown Baltimore for an Education Hack Day, a 2-day hackathon focused on building apps to help teachers and schools.

We are looking for school teachers and education professionals to submit ideas for the classroom over at our Educator’s Wish List. (ie. ”I wish I could schedule parent/teacher conferences easier.”)  We’ll keep track of what teacher suggested what idea and if your idea (or a close variation) is picked, you can win some prizes for your classroom!

Head over to our Developer’s Discussion to suggest your own app ideas and vote on others.  Also, your discussion will help us determine which API’s we will try and make available to you. 

Sunday Demos
Demos will start on Sunday at 4pm and last 60 – 90 minutes. It’s completely open to the public but registration is requested.  Invite your friends and family to come see what you’ve built all weekend at Digital Harbor High.

Digital Harbor Auditorium - Venue for our Demos

Digital Harbor Auditorium - Venue for our Demos

Judges Announced

We’re fortunate to have the following people act as judges at our Sunday night demos. They are:

Frank Bonsal, GP at New Markets Venture Partners
Matt Van Italie, CAO of Baltimore City Schools, KIPP, McKinsey
Brian Eyer, Principal at Digital Harbor High School
Tom “TK” Kuegler, GP at Wasabi Ventures
Tom Murdock, Founder at Moodlerooms
Bill Ferguson, State Senator for Maryland
Scott Messinger, City Schools Teacher & Ed Tech Founder

Education APIs for Edu Hack Day

Looking for some APIs to turn your great idea into a working app? We got you covered – there are literally dozens of APIs available for Education Hack Day participants to use.

For those ready to dive right in and start coding, we’ve got some code samples for select API partners in a GitHub repo that you can simply clone and start using.

In addition, ProgrammableWeb provides a great list of APIs that you can use in your Hack Day project. Here is a quick summary on some selected APIs.

OneSchool an easy way for you to connect to the people, places, and things around you on your college campus. Why not make things simple? OneSchool provides real-time bus tracking, an interactive map of classes and local eateries, a directory of students and professors, campus news, and more. It’s the ultimate college experience in the palm of your hand.

API: http://www.mashape.com/apis/oneschool

Face.com: Face.com’s face recognition is a service which allows computers to analyze facial information found in photos, and attempt to identify faces against a known set of users. They target the hardest problem in this field: identifying ‘faces in the crowd’, appearing in everyday photos, and match them against a large set of known faces.

API: http://developers.face.com/docs/

DonorsChoose: DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help students in need. At DonorsChoose.org, you can give as little as $1 and get the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback that is traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions. We call it citizen philanthropy. Our simple JSON API allows developers to help classroom projects with their website or application.

API: http://developer.donorschoose.org

Howcast: Howcast empowers people with engaging, useful how-to information wherever, whenever they need to know how. Known for high-quality content, Howcast streams tens of millions of videos every month across its multi-platform distribution network. With the Howcast API, you can integrate Howcast how-to videos and wiki guides into websites, interactive widgets, and applications on any device (maybe you’ll make the next iPhone killer app). The possibilities are limitless.

API: http://apidoc.teachstreet.com

Haiku Learning Systems: Haiku is a learning management system that allows teachers to bring their classroom to the web and the web to their classroom. Features include website design and development, listserve hosting, assignment dropboxes, and more.

API: http://www.myhaikuclass.com/haiku_lms/api/cms_page/view

Mendeley – Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network that can help you organize your research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest research. Mendeley provides access to academic research papers.

API: http://dev.mendeley.com

CoboCards: The Collaboration Cards – are online flashcards. Just create flashcards online and learn them in your browser or with our iPhone/Android Apps. Browse our Pool for flashcards and import them.

API: http://www.cobocards.com/api/

Curriculum U: Curriculum U is a web-based application that enables you to create and share curriculum. Its API lets you search learning content and school levels and returns K-12 content standards in XML format.

API: https://curriculumu.com/api/

Quizlet: The Quizlet API lets developers interested in building a flashcard application use Quizlet’s vast content database of about 30 million flashcards. Quizlet is the largest flash cards and study games website with over 7 million free sets of flashcards covering every possible subject. The Quizlet API lets users search for and download Quizlet flashcard sets for use in their own applications.

API: https://quizlet.com/api/2.0/docs/

Dictionary.com: Use the Web’s most popular dictionary to look up words within your application. Provides access to the Dictionary.com dictionary, thesaurus, slang, word of the day and more. Only non-commercial applications are allowed and API keys are reviewed.

API: http://developer.dictionary.com

Education.com: The SchoolFinder API from education.com gives you free school data on more than 130,000 public and private K-12 schools across the 50 U.S. states. Use this web service to get comprehensive information about a school’s academic performance, a school’s test scores, student demographics, teacher stats, and reviews from parents.

GreatSchools: GreatSchools is the country’s leading source of information on school performance. With listings of 200,000 public and private schools serving students from preschool through high school and more than 800,000 parent ratings and reviews, GreatSchools has become the go-to guide for parents aiming to make a smart school choice.

API: http://www.greatschools.org/api/docs/main.page

In addition, you can mash these education APIs up with other APIs, like those offered by our sponsors Tropo and CloudMine. Because, after all, mashing APIs up is what hackathons are all about. ;-)

Throughout the weekend, we’ll be holding a series of “mini-lectures” to provide more in depth information on APIs and other resources that might be of interest to participants. Look for the schedule and listing for these lectures to be posted at Digital Harbor High when the event kicks off this weekend.

Happy hacking!!

Stats, Stats and More Education Stats

One of the things the federal government has always been good at is collecting and compiling statistics and information.

One of the things it has recently started to get much better at is publishing those statistics for developers – most notably through the Data.gov portal.

There is a host of data sets available through the Data.gov portal specifically focusing on education. If you want to build a data-driven app, or want to visualize different data sets as part of your Education Hack day project, head on over to the developer section of Data.gov for education statistics.

In addition, here is list of other useful education statistical resources provided by the Department of Education:

Title Year(s) Source Download Dictionary Program
Public K-12 School Listing and Statistics 2009-2010 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Directory (CSV) Dictionary (PDF) Common Core of Data (CCD)
State and District Public High School Graduation Rates 2007-2008 U.S. Department of Education Directory (Excel) EDFacts
Public School District Shapefiles 2010 U.S. Census Bureau Elementary
Overview (PDF) TIGER
Private K-12 School Listing and Statistics 2007-2008 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Directory (TSV) Dictionary (Excel) Private School Survey (PSS)
College and University Listing and Statistics 2010 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Directory






Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System
Digest of Education Statistics 2010 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Various Sets (Excel) Full Report (PDF) Digest of Education Statistics
Federal Student Aid Data 2011 U.S. Department of Education Various Sets Federal Student Aid
Federal Resources for Educational Excellence 2011 U.S. Department of Education Full Database (XML) Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE)
American Community Survey (demographics at local level) 2010 U.S. Census Bureau Various Sets
(see acs*)
Handbooks (PDF) American Community Survey

Information courtesy of the Jason Hoekstra, U.S. Department of Education.

Education Nation 2.0

Inspiring discussion today from Standford University discussing how to improve our troubled school system and provide a better future for our nation’s greatest resource, our kids.

Panelists included:

John Hennessy, President of Stanford University
Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ
Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix
Salman Khan, Founder of Khan Academy
Kim Smith, CEO of Bellewether Education
Claude M. Steele, Dean of Stanford School of Education

Submit Your API for Education Hack Day

The success of Education Hack Day will be driven, in large part, by the data and APIs available for event participants to use when building their apps.

GitHub: Social Coding

After all, a hackathon is only as good as it’s data and API partners.

That’s where you can help to make Education Hack Day a resounding success – by contributing documentation and code samples for your APIs.

We’ve decided to use GitHub as an easy way for partners to document their APIs and contribute code samples for Hack Day participants to use. If you want to provide information or code samples for participants to use at Education Hack Day, here’s what you need to do.

  • From your GitHub account, fork the Education Hack Day code samples and API repo.
  • Create a new branch with your contact information or organization name.
  • Create a folder to hold your documentation and/or code samples.
  • Commit and push your changes back to Github.
  • Issue a pull request and we’ll incorproate your materials into the master branch.

This process will make it easy for partners to add and modify materials that they want participants to use.

When Education Hack Day begins, we’ll instruct all participants to clone this repo, so they will have all of your documentation and code samples to use when building their apps.

You can help us make Education Hack Day a smashing success – contribute docs and code samples for your APIs!

What’s a Hack Day?

A hack day is an event where developers, designers and people with ideas gather to build cool stuff – the events now run all over the world. The ‘days’ are generally run over 48 hours. The first day starts with talks about practical matters (how to access datasets and APIs) as well more inspirational matters to encourage developers and designers to think beyond their normal areas of interest.

In Feb 2011, a few of us hosted a Civic Hack Day that brought together Baltimore’s open city data and technologists to build apps for citizens.

Music Hack Day’s are similar events focused on the creation of music tools. Here’s a great video from the NYC Music Hack Day organized by John Britton, a friend of mine that is also organizing an Edu Hack Day in NYC in Sept 2011.

Education Hack Day : Bringing together Technologists + Teachers