Hackathon 101

iCode McKinney’s First Hackathon event: February 18, 2019

iCode family – it’s that time of the year and we could not be more pumped: iCode McKinney is hosting its first ever Hackathon! Now we know that some of you are seasoned Hackathon pros. For those who have never attended or even heard of a Hackathon, fear not. Here is everything you need to know about Hackathons in general, and our Hackathon in particular.

What is a Hackathon?!

Good question! A Hackathon is a coding competition where students come together to build the coolest projects (apps, websites etc.), compete to win prizes and show off their coding and presentation skills. The best part about a Hackathon, however, is meeting a ton of new people, learning a bunch of new things and just having a great time!

When and where is the iCode McKinney Hackathon happening?

The Humani-Tech Hackathon, hosted by iCode McKinney in partnership with the McKinney Gifted and Talented Alliance and the Community Food Pantry of McKinney, takes place on February 18th, 2019 from 9am-6pm. The venue is iCode McKinney, 5100 El Dorado Parkway, #108, in McKinney, Texas, 75070.

Who can attend?

You are eligible to attend if you are within one of two groups: 5th-8th grade OR 9th-12th grade. You absolutely do not need to live in McKinney to participate – anyone from the DFW metroplex is welcome to register and participate! Bring your friends, your siblings, your cousins! Bring your neighbors!

Will I work individually, or can I team up with a friend?

We’re all about the teamwork! Participants are strongly encouraged to build a team of no more than three and register together. However, if you don’t have a team, we will happily assign you to one – yay for new friends!

What exactly will we be working on?

Hackathon challenges can sometimes have an overarching theme, and often they have to do with a pressing social issue that needs solving. We have picked Combatting Hunger as the theme for our Hackathon. According to Feeding America more than 800,000 people across DFW are food insecure. We’re challenging all of our Hackathon participants to use their brains and tech skills to come up with the best possible solution to the hunger problem.


What platforms can we use during the Hack?

The Hack will be open platform so you can use anything you want; just make sure to have all your updates done beforehand as wi-fi can sometimes get spotty with so many users.

Where do I register?!

http://bit.ly/icodehumanitech – register now, spots are limited!

Teach My Elementary Schooler Java!


If only we had a dollar for every time we’ve heard that…

When learning Math at school, students start by familiarizing themselves with numbers, then addition, subtraction and so on. They certainly don’t dive headfirst into calculus in kindergarten! When you teach a child to swim, it’s the same thing: first they get comfortable with just being in the water, they graduate from using floaters to noodles to finally swimming on their own. Would you put your child into an 8-foot deep pool and leave them to fend for themselves on day one of swim class? We hope not!

This exact same principle applies to teaching kids how to code; it’s temptingly easy for parents (especially parents who are familiar with computer science or working in the tech industry) to disregard the initial stages of curriculum as ‘baby stuff’ or ‘not something my child will need or use in real life’. There is something to be said, however, for taking it slow and steady, following a well-thought-out and painstakingly developed curriculum (shameless self-praise but we really are so proud of it!) rather than jumping the gun and exposing your child to a language as complex and detail oriented as Java when they may, in fact, not be physically or mentally ready for it. The absolute last thing we ever want to see at iCode is a discouraged, disillusioned student.

The iCode curriculum is proprietary, and our Belt System is carefully re-evaluated at regular intervals to ensure that we’re always on top of our game, offering the best possible path of progression to ensure that our students are enjoying what they’re learning, comfortable with their progress but also sufficiently challenged. Our Belt System was designed keeping in mind the general progression of cognitive development in children; up until 7 years of age, the average child is developing his or her sensory and motor skills. Operational and logical skills don’t really begin developing until 7 or 8 years of age. Concrete operational skills and the ability to grasp abstract logic, usually develops in the pre-teen years. Our Belt structure reflects this as well: the White Belt introduces Scratch, the Red Belt explores Game Design and Development and the Blue Belt gets into the more meaty Python (pun absolutely not intended!)

In conclusion, as much as you may want to see your child master the most advanced of languages and/or programs at a young age, don’t push them to do this at the expense of their joy in learning. It is great to focus on the end goal but enjoy the journey your child will take to get there; the innumerable and transferable skills he or she will pick up along the way, the fundamentals that will become part of a rich learning experience. Trust in the process of learning that opens imaginations to new and amazing possibilities. Trust the structured curriculum, designed to provide a rock-solid foundation in computer science. Trust iCode as an educational institute that is firmly committed to the progress of each child.

STEM or STEAM – What’s Your Pick?

Doesn’t it feel like we had all just got on board with STEM and now all of a sudden everyone’s talking about STEAM? What the what?! What is STEAM? Where did the A come from? Is STEM now rendered ineffective? Which is better for students today and why?

STEM, as we all know, refers to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These subjects have become a focal point in most learning systems and programs across the United States; lately, however, experts have been calling for the addition of the A which stands for Arts (thereby converting STEM to STEAM).  The study of the Arts has been proven not only to improve students’ academic performance, but also “build confidence, develop motor skills, and hone their decision-making and problem-solving skills”. Look at Steve Jobs (of Apple fame), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) and Albert Einstein (genius!) – what do they have in common? Yes, they all boast superior technical knowledge but their personalities definitely also displayed a very vibrant creative side.

And isn’t there an Art & Design element to everything around us? No, seriously. Everything around us. Including the mobile phone, tablet or laptop you may be using to read this awesome blog post. Sure, it’s technology, but would you have bought this particular gadget if it looked and felt clunky? Why does Nike focus as much on the look of their shoes as they do on the technology that makes them perfect for basketball, or running, or whatever the case may be? It’s 2018, and consumers are not willing to spend on products where superior technology and good design are mutually exclusive (for more on this idea, read this article by Huffington Post).

Here’s another interesting angle: the Arts teach us soft and social skills. They teach us how to think critically, the flow of logical thought, ethics and morality, how to be humane and understand the nature of humanity. They expose us to new ideas and foreign concepts, and arm us with the ability to process innovative ideas in a better way. All of this, my friends, equates to superior emotional intelligence, one of the key characteristics of good leaders.

Let’s put it this way: if you had to choose between hiring someone with great technical skills, or hiring someone with great technical skills who also displayed leadership qualities and emotional intelligence, whom would you pick?

Does Your Child’s Excessive Screen Time Have You Scratching Your Head In Despair?

Well, put that screen time to good use then! Learning is not just happening in the classroom or behind a textbook anymore; there are several resources out there that can extend your child’s learning process beyond the classroom – and would you believe some of them are even fun?! Jokes aside, though, there are so many programs and software that it can be downright daunting for the uninitiated. Where does one even begin?

Well, to make it just a tad bit easier for you (are ya feelin the love yet?), this blog will talk about one of the most well-known and reliable programs out there that introduces your young one to coding and programming in an enjoyable way! Scratch is a programming language designed and maintained by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. It teaches children to “program and share interactive media stories, games, and animation with people from all over the world. As children create with Scratch, they learn to think creatively, work collaboratively and reason systematically”.

Not convinced? The way it works is simple; Scratch has an extremely child-friendly drag-and-drop interface and all children have to do is select from different blocks of instructions to perform tasks. What it does on a deeper level, however, is teach children ‘computational thinking’. Your child is not just absorbing digital content anymore; they’re creating it, designing it, modifying it. They’re improving their ‘digital fluency’! The community aspect of Scratch is also wonderful because it creates an atmosphere in which children feel proud to share their work with others, get feedback on it, and give respectful, insightful feedback themselves.

If there is one thing you take away from this article, let it be this: there is no saying what programming languages will look like ten years from now, which jobs will be done entirely by machines and which new professions will come into being. What we do know is this: technological innovation is changing our lives at a dizzying pace, and our children need to have the now-essential skills of computational thinking, problem solving and working in collaboration with their peers to not just survive but thrive.

In the words of Harvard professor of education Stephanie M. Jones, “if you raise and educate kids to be flexible, problem solvers and good communicators, they can adapt to a world that is new”.