Reporter with Silicon Hills News
It’s hard making a mobile app.
Just ask 80 fourth, fifth and sixth graders who just finished Hello World’s first engineering program and created 12 prototypes. Hello World, a new after school program, teaches kids web and mobile development, game design, data science and design thinking.
The kids designed the apps, learned to code, created wireframes and planned everything while thinking about the user’s experience, said Matthew Hernandez, who just finished sixth grade at KIPP Austin Academies of Arts & Letters and a HP team member.
“You have to put yourself in the user’s shoes,” he said.
Hernandez spoke to more than 200 people at Hello World’s Demo Day. Students from 15 Austin schools participated in six sessions during three weeks. The kids formed 12 teams and Saturday morning at Google Fiber Space downtown they presented their products to judges, their friends, family members and others.
In addition to making a mobile app, the students used HTML and CSS to create websites.
“It’s not as hard when you’re in a team,” said Hernandez. “Everybody had ideas. We worked really well together. We didn’t have many struggles.”
Sabina Bharwani and Danielle Wilson Burnett co-founded Hello World to meet a need for more Science Technology Engineering and Math opportunities for Austin students. Bharwani heads education technology and innovation for Teach for America. Burnett works at GameSalad as principal learning architect. They garnered support for the program from Google, Iron Yard, General Assembly and Dell.
A team of judges picked five team winners. The judges included Michael Georgoff, senior vice president of product at Main Street Hub, Katy Jeremko, founder and chief creative officer at re:3D, Blake Ligon, Google channels specialist and Patrick Benfield, STEAM and makerspace director at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School.
The judges declared the eBay Pandas team overall winner. The team created a homework helper app for Emily, a student, to let her control her room’s lighting and listen to music while completing a homework “to do” list.
During the program, Jeremiah Anderson, who just completed sixth grade at KIPP Austin College Prep, and a member of the eBay Pandas team, said he learned a lot about data science and programming.
His parents, Royce and Etta James, said Jeremiah has always shown an interest in science and engineering. He even won a special scholarship to attend space camp this summer.
Jeremiah said he is interested in becoming a chemical engineer and computer scientist and he wants to work for NASA.
The HP team won for “most innovative app idea” with their buddy system app to help a student transition from elementary to middle school. One of the judges, Georgoff praised the kids for their teamwork.
“Great products get built by teams and not individual people,” Georgoff said.
The AirBnB team won for “making hard choices” for their navigation app to help a kid get around a middle school campus. They decided to leave out games. The Dell team won for their “user-centric” app which provided a virtual school tour. And the Twitter team won for “strong application of the design thinking process” for their homework helper app with study guides, games and practice problems and a way to communicate with the teacher.
James Caras with Macmillian Learning, an educational publishing company, attended the event while his teenage son took the SAT exam. He found out about it on the Austin Ed Tech meetup group. Caras, an entrepreneur who sold his online homework company Saplings to Macmillian a few years ago, liked the high caliber of ideas from the kids.
“A lot of the things these kids are talking about we are talking about every day,” Caras said.
Customer empathy is key to developing a successful app, Caras said. He was thrilled to see Hello World’s program teaching the kids to think about the customer first.
“We think we’re geniuses in our jobs and these kids are running circles around us,” Caras said.
A mission of Hello World is to emphasize diversity, equality and access to big ideas in technology, said Benfield, with St. Gabriel’s Catholic School. The kids came from a wide variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, he said.
Access creates opportunities, said Bharwani.
In college, 98 percent of computer science majors have exposure to computer science before they go to college, Bharwani said.
Yet computer science is not taught in most schools, Bharwani said. So Hello World is able to fill the gap and expose kids to opportunities in those fields at an early age, she said.