Last month, students at Minnetonka High School participated in the second annual Tonka Hacks “Hackathon,” a collaborative competition in which teams of students would utilize their coding skills to create a creative solution on a pre-selected topic.
This year, the hackathon’s topic was “Making Education Interesting Again,” arising from the challenges students have faced with online learning. Teams were tasked with finding an aspect within the education system that could be made more engaging for students, and they were required to develop their own code and create a professional video presentation explaining their creation. Winners were judged on several criteria including their coding, communication, and presentation skills, and cash prizes were awarded.
This year, the event followed a hybrid model, enabling students to compete both in-person and at home.
About the Tonka Hacks Hackathon
“For people who are interested in computer coding, [Tonka Hacks] gives them an avenue to expand on their preexisting knowledge and explore new concepts related to technology,” said Kruthica Dama ‘22, a student leader for Tonka Hacks.
“We had a few workshops for people to learn more about different technological applications, and a lot of people ended up learning new skills either in preparation for or during the hackathon. For example, one of our teams learned how to use Blender for the event, and other teams were learning new ways to code with html, Python and other languages that can be used in computer programming.”
Yet, though the hackathon greatly built upon students’ coding abilities, Dama believes it was even more important in building upon their professionalism, communication and collaboration skills.
“In the technology and computer programming world, the part with computers is the easy side of the job,” said Dama. “The point of this hackathon was not to just submit some piece of code and be graded on that alone.”
In addition to working on their collaboration skills by working in teams, students were also evaluated on their product presentations, where they had to explain their product in terms understandable to their intended consumer.
“These kinds of skills are important not just in the technology fields, but in pretty much any career field that you go into,” explained Dama. “That's why these kinds of events are important, because it's not just asking you to build a really cool and technologically complex project, but it's also asking you to work on those soft skills that everyone needs to succeed in the future.”
The rest of the members of the organizing team were Emily Nikas ‘22, Elizabeth Wang ‘22 and Tony Pappas ‘23.
Waves Virtual Classroom Environment Wins First Place
This year’s winning project was titled “Waves - Virtual Classroom Environment,” created by team members Jerry Zhang, Jenny Quan, Prathul Rao, Austin Wang and Merlin Morton, all juniors at MHS.
“Waves” tackled the issue of student disengagement in virtual education due to the lack of social interaction. The proposed solution included developing an app that fosters social interaction between peers and their teachers, where several key functions helped to mimic a collaborative classroom environment as closely as possible. These functionalities included a proximity chat feature, a table-based whiteboard system feature, a movement feature (where students can move avatars around in a 2D classroom) and a feature that allowed students to turn on their microphones and cameras whenever desired.
“Using our product, teachers would be able to more effectively manage student-to-student interactions and facilitate more group work time, while students would be able to retain the social interactions they would normally have in in-person school,” the team members said.
To view more details about their project and watch their video presentation, visit the following webpage: https://devpost.com/software/waves-virtual-classroom-environment
Congratulations to all participants in this year’s Hackathon! All projects may be viewed here: https://tonkahacks2021.devpost.com/project-gallery
Acknowledgements: Dama would like to thank Mr. Bahr, the Tonka Hacks advisor, as well as their sponsors RBA Consulting, Target and Ulteig, for providing them with the tools and volunteers to make their event possible.