New Canaan High School hosted its first “Hackathon’ on March 23, 2017. The 12-hour event featured teams of students who worked on projects involving robotics and computer coding which were judged at the end of the day. Industry experts from Universal Robots, Facebook and FactSet shared their experience and knowledge and provided hands-on robotics assembly and programming demonstrations. One expert served as a judge for the student’s final projects.
The event was organized by NCHS AP Computer Science junior Thomas Freiberg, (pictured at right with FactSet's Daniel Weinstein) who worked with faculty and administration to produce the event. Thomas admits that putting the Hackathon together was an educational experience in itself. “I learned that it is very difficult to organize an event like this on your own. There are both an incredible amount of details and communication required,” he said. “You need someone to mentor you and make it happen on the administrative end of things at the school. Fortunately, Mr. Ari Rothman, Assistant Principal of New Canaan High School, was always open to my ideas, and he helped make it happen easily.”
The event was put together over the course of several months and involved arranging spaces in the building, ordering kits and reaching out to presenters from various technology fields. During the day, fourteen NCHS students worked in teams on coding or robotics projects that they presented at the end of the day. Some students are in the AP Computer Science Principles class, some are members of the VEX Robotics Club, some are just computer hobbyists. Guest presenters included Jeff Richlin from Richlin Machinery, who spoke about the development of robotic machinery for industry and gave demonstration of one of his robots. Clare O’Hare, former executive with Facebook and an NCHS Parent, spoke about the need for programmers and creative thinkers in industry. And Daniel Weinstein, from FactSet, a global provider of integrated financial information and analytical applications, served as judge of the students’ final projects. “I think our guest speakers and our judge were great. They inspired students and showed how learning is applied in the profession,” said Freiberg.
NCHS Assistant Principal Ari Rothman noted: “As an old social studies teacher, I had no idea what the students were saying to each other while they were working together bringing their projects to completion. What I did recognize was creativity, collaborative problem-solving and mutual respect for the skills and insights each team member brings to the project.”
Thomas Freiberg hopes the success of the event leads to future Hackathons. “Since it was a pilot program, I was nervous up until the day before the event, because I wasn’t sure how many students would attend. It turned out to be a success, and there was definitely student interest in the Hackathon. I’m hoping to organize an event like this again," he said. Project winners from the day included Adi Ogale, Ben Levin, and Daniel Lu (pictured left-right).