Wilson Elementary wins the district’s first-ever Hackathon


Teams of fourth- and fifth-grade students from all five elementary schools in Rockville Centre, and their principals, gathered in the Francis F. Wilson Elementary School gym on Jan. 26 for the first-ever KidOYO Hackathon.

The competition — similar to the board game Risk — was a series of coding challenges that teams completed in order to claim territory on a map. Teams of eight to 10 students from each school were given 90 minutes to try to conquer as much territory as they could, while their competitors tried to wrest the claimed territory away by offering better solutions to the challenges.

Computer programmers from KidOYO, a Long Island-based nonprofit that partners with schools to create coding-based curriculums, judged the students’ solutions to determine the winners of each challenge. The team that conquered the most territory was the winner.

“Our students did a great job, not only coding, but determining the actual strategy of the game,” district Superintendent Matthew Gaven said at the Board of Education meeting on Feb. 1. “So we had a lot of high drama and excitement, and I want to thank all of our elementary Hackathon mentors for taking the ‘risk’ of trying something new.”

The goal of the event was to encourage student programmers, designers and tech enthusiasts to collaborate, using KidOYO programming software, to solve problems and create new applications.

Wilson Principal James Duffy, who served as emcee, said that the event was a friendly, upbeat competition among the elementary schools that was organized by teachers in the district’s Success in Technology, Enrichment, Literacy, Library and Research, or STELLAR, program.

“I thought it was fantastic,” Duffy said. “The students were all very excited for it.”

He explained that they practiced with their STELLAR teachers in the mornings before class and during their lunch periods to prepare for the competition. Duffy added that what he liked most about the Hackathon was that it gave students who might not typically be as involved, academically or athletically, a chance to shine by showcasing their coding talents.

Students at Wilson, Covert, Hewitt, Riverside and Watson Elementary worked with teammates in a race against the clock to try and complete as many challenges as they could.

In the end, the team from Wilson — the Wizards — took first place, winning 10 of the team challenges and capturing most of the territory on the board. Duffy and the winners were invited to attend the next school board meeting, on Thursday, after the Herald went to press, where they were to be presented with a trophy by Gaven for their computer-coding prowess.

“We’re hoping to start a new tradition here in the district,” Duffy said.

To help do so, the winning team will have the honor of housing the trophy for the next year, and the chance to host the next elementary school Hackathon.

“I think it really worked out well for our students,” Gaven said, “and I’m excited to see what our students do with more practice.”

At the meeting on Feb. 1, school board members acknowledged the faculty and staff who were instrumental in organizing the event. Trustee Erica Messier said that in the photos she saw on social media, the student participants “looked so engaged and enthusiastic.”

Tara Hackett, a fellow trustee, said she was proud of all of the kids who took part. “Thank you to Mr. Duffy for hosting the event,” Hackett said. “And congratulations to the Wilson team for taking home the prize.”

In addition to celebrating the success of the elementary school hackers, district administrators said they planned to bring all of the excitement of the competition to South Side Middle School in the future. They are also considering sending the winning team to take part in the Long Island Inter-District Hackathon League, in which students at the high school, middle school and upper elementary school levels compete against teams from other districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The KidOYO educational platform was integrated into the elementary school STELLAR program last year, as part of the district’s effort to give students more opportunities in coding, research, robotics, computer science and engineering. KidOYO prioritizes computational literacy, and is currently partnered with more than 100 schools across the state. For more information, visit KidOYO.com.