ArborHacks formed to increase access to and participation in computer science

The group will hold a once-a-year hackathon for local high school students in addition to other events.

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Some of the high school students working on projects at the first ArborHacks event. Photo courtesy MLive.

Computer science students have started a new U-M student organization aimed at increasing access to and participation in CS. Called ArborHacks, the group will hold a once-a-year hackathon for local high school students in addition to other events and will work with the CSE Division and other U-M entities to sponsor or support additional outreach activities.

The group’s annual event, also called ArborHacks, was first held on December 19, 2015 at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, a little over a month after the ArborHacks group was formed. About 150 students attended from every high school in Ann Arbor Public Schools and from Washtenaw International High School.

At ArborHacks, students learned to use the basics of HTML, CSS, and Javascript to create a website that plays the classic arcade game Snake.

CS students Ben Freiband and Max Albert directed the inaugural event.

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U-M student Rachel Menge provides instruction and encouragement for the high school students. Photo courtesy MLive.

Freiband said that ArborHacks is about learning and exploring by having time and support to hack something together – even if it isn’t complete or polished. “Hacking is an expression of creativity, and a way to learn a lot,” he said.

Albert declared the event an unapologetic success, noting that, “Every hacker left the event with a static webpage. But the vast majority did end up adding Javascript. A few teams even went way beyond our curriculum! I for one am truly impressed.”

The first ArborHacks was more guided than a collegiate hackathon, and both college students and local computer programmers were on hand to mentor the high school students during the event. “We want to give them skills they don’t necessarily have access to at the high school level that will make it immeasurably easier to further their own ideas,” Freiband said.

Now that the dust has settled from the first ArborHacks, Albert, Freiband and their colleagues are actively engaging with others with the goal of reaching out to women and other underrepresented groups in computer science.

They plan to hold Hour of Code events for K-12 classes in the surrounding areas, in addition to contributing to CS events on the U-M campus that are being held by other groups.

For ArborHacks 2, the students are making some big changes. In a fashion similar to collegiate hackathons (such as MHacks), ArborHacks 2 will be significantly less “directed,” and more encouraging of untamed creativity. It will differ, however, in that there will be a much greater emphasis on learning than at most collegiate hackathons.

According to Albert, “We would like to have teams be formed of both college students and high school students, to encourage sharing of both knowledge and creativity. At this point in time, we are planning for ArborHacks 2 to be a 24-hour event. Eventually, we will be looking for college student attendees who are enthusiastic not just about CS, but also about helping other less experienced people learn CS.”

More Information:

MLive: Ann Arbor-area high school students learn how to build website at ArborHacks
Max Albert’s Medium post: ArborHacks Review (In Photos)