District 211 Hack-A-Thon returns with coding gusto

Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211’s popular student-led Hack-A-Thon returned in April, the first in post-pandemic times. Student coders programmed for hours, arriving at 8 a.m. and staying until 8 p.m.

A Hack-A-Thon allows people to come together for computer programming, and at this year’s event, students enjoyed coding while meeting fellow computer scientists across the district.

The Hack-A-Thon was available to all students, no matter their skill level. Beginners joined workshops about HTML, AI, and APIs, and coded their own websites with the help of experienced student coders. More experienced coders viewed more advanced workshops and also held a Code Battle — with students solving programming problems using a special platform.

Alexander Alch, a Conant High School student, was among the attendees at the District 211 student Hack-A-Thon, which allowed students to learn from each other, view workshops and work on projects that were presented to a team of District 211 administrators, including Superintendent Lisa Small, who served as judges. Courtesy of District 211

“I wanted a way to bring people together over coding,” said Palatine High School junior Hanan Habahbeh, a student coordinator of the event. While the District’s Hack-A-Thon started years ago, it halted in 2020. Habahbeh and others from across the district planned for months for the event, researching everything from potential event T-shirt designs and sponsors to overall student interest.

Beginner workshops let students dip into the world of computer science, while the advanced sections immersed them in more specific topics. Each school’s workshop focused on different areas of coding: Schaumburg High School talked about application programming interfaces (APIs), for instance, while Fremd discussed machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Students also worked on open-ended individual or group projects. A group from Palatine High School coded an imaginative recreation of Blackjack in a wizard’s tower, while a group from Fremd High School coded an app to help wheelchair users find accessible routes to their destinations. A group from Schaumburg High School coded a project dubbed “Hack-Man,” a fun twist on Pac-Man that included viruses and internet references.

Many participants had previous programming experience thanks to a variety of courses offered at District 211 schools, including AP Computer Science and Mobile Apps & Development.

“In class, you’re focused on a curriculum and you have to do certain projects,” said Habahbeh. “But with a Hack-A-Thon, you can make anything you want and see what everyone else makes.”

Coding ended at the dinner hour, with Fremd Principal Mark Langer, Palatine Principal Tony Medina and District 211 Superintendent Lisa Sall hearing and judging presentations on solo and group coding projects. Prizes were awarded to those finishing fourth place and above.

Jacob Kim, a student coordinator of the event, said he hopes the Hack-A-Thon demonstrated the diversity and importance of computer science in today’s environment.

“Everyone’s constantly surrounded by technology, and it’s so cool for people to learn how it works,” he said. “And teaching that too, it’s radical.”

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