Teamwork Is Key at CIJE Hackathon

On a dreary Wednesday that would usually be the last day of February, 16 area high schools came together to participate in the sixth Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE) Hackathon. At an open warehouse space in Industry City, Brooklyn, that provided views of the cloudy Upper Bay and the Statue of Liberty, hundreds of teenagers tried to use their skills to show just how bright the future might be.

Created in 2001, CIJE coordinates educational programs in more than 175 Jewish schools across the country. Those programs impact the learning of more than 45,000 students each year and focus on both the ever-relevant (collaborating in teams, developing critical thinking skills and finding solutions) and the futuristic (the STEAM component). According to the organization, the goal is to prepare the next generation for innovation by funding programs with advanced technology, developing engaging curricula, and providing ongoing teacher training, mentorship and school visits by engineers.

The premise of the hackathon is that students sit for a presentation that outlines a real-life difficulty and they have the rest of the day to figure out a solution.

While that may sound easy, it is not. Though the students who attend the competition must be taking the CIJE engineering curriculum in their school, they are only allowed to attend one hackathon—most attend during their sophomore year—and don’t have any idea what the problem is before they arrive. Once they find out, they don’t just devise a solution. Each team of four has to design and build a prototype that they can demonstrate; design and code a website that will display the data from their invention; and prepare a three-minute presentation that will bring everything together for their peers and judges at the end of the day.

The teamwork component here is key. Some students are going to be stronger than others in certain areas. They have to figure out which team members are doing which tasks. Most teams brainstormed on which facet of the problem they wanted to address and how they planned on doing that, but after that initial conversation, the scramble ensued. Who builds the physical prototype? Who codes the prototype? Who writes the material on the website? Who codes the website? Who makes up the presentation slides? Who will actually talk to the crowd and judges?

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