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Students at the Newtown’s Fraser Woods Montessori School are looking to give hacking a benevolent and altruistic reputation by partaking in a program associated with Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK).
The event is scheduled to run from 8:30 am to 4 pm on Saturday, May 4, at the Montessori school. The deadline for registration is Tuesday, April 30.
RHoK is multinational initiative that seeks to solve complicated social issues through the development of open-source technology. Open source technology generally refers to free redistribution and access to a technology based product and its code. Open source is not owned by any person or entity and can be modified and customized by any capable member of the public.
While RHoK has hosted programs for adults in the past, the upcoming RHoK Junior at the Montessori School will be the first time the organization has organized an event specifically for children. The program is associated with a number of charitable and civic organizations, including Newtown Kindness, Autism Speaks, The Animal Center of Newtown, Polar Bears International, and others.
According to Fraser Woods Montessori School technology teacher Patrice Gans, each organization will provide a problem definition, which the young students will try to solve with technology. The participants will be provided with an application inventor program and will be assisted by high school and university students with the technical aspects of development.
Ms Gans wants the program to show the participating students that technology can be used for more than entertainment. She hopes the experience will empower the attending students to think of technology as an agent of social change instead of just a frivolous modern convenience.
“It can be a tool for social good instead of a tool for video games,” Ms Gans said. “It’s not about being consumers, it’s about being a producer of technology and how much impact you can have when you’re a producer instead of just being a consumer. Children say, ‘Oh that’s cool, how do I play that?’ after this hopefully they say, ‘Oh that’s cool. how do I make that?’”
There is also a practical goal inherent in this and all RHoK programs. RHoK Community Support Manager Thea Aldrich said RHoK events have been involved in the creation of more than 1,000 open source applications, which have addressed a broad swatch of social issues.
Ms Aldrich said RHoK has created apps that have “run the gamut,” including an app that allows homeless shelters to share the availability of their beds and resources. Another app provides facial recognition technology to a hospital to streamline security for visitors. Many of these apps have been created for organizations that do not have the resources to hire a private developer. All of these applications can be found on RHoK’s website (www.rhok.org/solutions).
Ms Aldrich said the event scheduled at Fraser Woods Montessori School is revolutionary, and hopes it will provide a template for future programs aimed at children. She was very impressed with Ms Gans’s ability, she said, to organize the event, something that many people and large organizations have tried to do and have not done as successfully as Ms Gans has.
“From our standpoint we hope this starts in Newtown and takes off globally, and it’s really remarkable what she’s been able to pull together in terms of sponsorships and connections with local organizations,” Ms Aldrich said. “A lot of people are watching this very closely to see how we can scale it up and deploy it in other areas.”
Ms Aldrich credits Ms Gans’s success to her approach as an educator and involving organizations the students are naturally curious about.
“She’s kept the interest of the kids in the forefront,” Ms Aldrich said. “She’s made sure the organizations she’s working with are actually organizations that are interesting to the kids and affect them directly.”
Fraser Woods sixth grader Aaron Squibb, 11, said he is planning on attending the event and is excited to work with Polar Bears International. Aaron and his friend Julian Coyle set up an organization called Polar Savers, which serves to save polar bears. Aaron said the donations Polar Savers raises is given to Polar Bears International, an organization dedicated to saving polar bears by saving their sea ice habitat, to help fund their efforts.
No stranger to utilizing technology, Aaron said he put in a lot of time and energy into Polar Savers, in part by providing information on the organization’s website, www.polarsavers.org.
“We spent a whole year at recess getting people to donate, and we spent a lot of time working on an online textbook to educate people on polar bears,” Aaron said.
Besides helping out organizations like Polar Bears International, Aaron mentioned he is excited to learn more about technology from the tech-savvy volunteers.
“It never hurts to learn more about what other people know,” Aaron said. “That’s another reason I’m going, to learn more from other people.”
RHoK is open to students of all ability levels between fourth and eighth grade, and is scheduled to run from 8:30 am to 4 pm on Saturday, May 4. The deadline for registration is Tuesday, April 30.
Additional information about the event can be found on RHoK’s website, www.rhok.org/event/rhok-junior. Those interested in attending the event can register through the website as well. Fraser Woods Montessori School is at 173 South Main Street.