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Students in Western Washington are running their own hackathons to create new innovations for learning

An app for better posture to help take some of the stress out of public speaking. A bot-driven lesson on climate change. A remote learning experience based in augmented reality. These are just some of the winning solutions for better educational experiences that came out of a Bellevue-based, student-led international hackathon. 

The virtual “InspirEd Hacks” event, organized by the student-driven nonprofit Mission InspirEd, yielded 130 participants from more than 10 countries pitching 45 projects to help improve education, teaching and learning. 

“I think this signals that education and applying technology in that field is pretty popular and a lot of people have solutions for it,” said Mina Jo, the Mission InspirEd events co-director, who will be a senior at Issaquah High School this fall. “There are a lot of grievances and a lot of improvements to be made in education.”  

Hackathons are intensive gatherings where participants combine their skills to complete a task or create a solution to a problem in a short period of time. InspirEd Hacks’ hackathon lasted for a weekend. 

Jo said this finite time limit helps people become “more motivated to think of something and get their first thoughts and ideas out without doubt creeping up or overthinking what is possible.” Participants also don’t have the time to worry about what’s marketable; they tend to focus on whether an idea is doable, she said. 

Grand prize winners Mithil Srungarapu and Nathan Lintu, from Irvington High School in Fremont, California, created Posture Buddy, a web application inspired by people’s chronic fears of public speaking, which can cause them to fidget or slouch. Their app uses artificial intelligence and algorithms to detect common forms of bad posture and provides custom reports on how to fix it, so people can stand tall with confidence while addressing a crowd. The duo hopes their technology can be applied to the fields of athletics and physical therapy in the future.

Many of the entries addressed the matter of student engagement, Jo said. The projects either tried to keep students interested in learning, or showed how teachers can use technology to deliver more engaging lessons. 

Mission InspirEd isn’t the only student group in the area using technology to improve education. Sayan Bhatia, who will be a senior at Redmond High this fall, and his brother Sohil, who will be a junior, are the co-founders of Start STEM Early, a youth-led nonprofit advocating for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and competition opportunities for young people. The siblings have developed and released their own apps for the public ever since they began working with education technology in 2018. 

Start STEM Early hosted its first hackathon in December and will launch its second this Thursday. Sayan said there are currently more than 250 students worldwide registered for the hackathon to develop mobile apps. Susie Kandzor, director of hacking for the Redmond-based Microsoft Garage and organizer of the Microsoft Global Hackathon, will be the keynote speaker. The event runs through Monday. It is free to register, and the hackathon, which includes workshops and prizes, is open to students in grades 2-8. 

Sayan said there’s a sense of pride and drive that’s generated when a student creates an app or an interactive project on their own. “Along with building new skills and learning the creative aspect of technology, hackathons are an amazing place to be inspired by others’ ideas and projects,” he said. “To put it simply, hackathons are just the start. The path and projects that students will create as a part of this hackathon is something we believe to be the most impactful.”



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