During the week of August 6th Plug & Play had the privilege of being part of Young Rewired State, a spinoff of its grown-up version, Rewired State. Young Rewired State (YRS) caters to a network of young developers under the age of 18 with the goal of finding, nurturing, and supporting young people who have taught themselves how to code.
Kids sign up to be a part of YRS and are then allocated to centres closest to them. Centres are simply businesses who offer their office space as a facility throughout the hack week and look after the youngsters. Here at Pearson HQ, I acted as centre lead and worked together with a mentor assigned by YRS to offer support to the kids.
This year 38 businesses across the UK offered their facilities to the young coders, some of which hosted up to 25 kids. Pearson Plug & Play was not only a sponsor but also a centre, hosting 6 young people from Monday to Thursday. During this time the kids got together to design and code a web application. On Friday, August 10th the kids travelled to the Festival of Code which took place at the Custard Factory in Birmingham to showcase the fantastic apps they built during the week. The event ended on Sunday morning with a Survivor's Breakfast.
The Prize Categories
- Best Example of Coding
- Code a Better Country (i.e. best 'worthy' app, the app that will make a social difference)
- SAP Best in Show (i.e. best idea, best code, best presentation and best design)
- Wish I Had Thought of That
Bonus category: Should Exist
A total of 100 projects from 38 centres were submitted on Thursday afternoon and entered into the competition. One centre entered 13 hacks! Team Pearson (@pearsonYRS2012) was a finalist in the Wish I Had Thought of That category. The winners and all other entries can be found here.
Young Rewired State at Pearson
The event kicked off on Monday morning at 10 am with 6 kids and 4 mentors. After initial introductions (3 of the kids already knew each other from previous coding classes) and watching the introductory video from headline sponsor SAP, the kids came up with ideas for an app very quickly with guidance from 2 of the mentors. Within a couple of hours, the kids had agreed to create an app that would benefit their peers by providing information on crime rate, accident incidence, Twitter feeds, news, pizzerias, party places, and as an added extra, missing cats and animal excrements in any given area. Potential names for the app flew around, all of which were vetoed. The roles were quickly divided - front-end and back-end teams - and designs for the app were quickly thought up. Within 2 hours, wireframes were up on the wall and coding began.
By Thursday, after many changes and tweaks, the app was pretty much ready and the kids spent most of the afternoon putting together their presentation before submitting their project to a dedicated YRS website. They even gave the Future Tech team a preview of their showcase for Saturday's Show & Tell at the Custard Factory.
Throughout the week, the young coders continued to impress me with their focus, skills, and creativity. There seemed to be no limitation to the ideas people brought to the table (even if some of them ended up being branded as "silly" by fellow peers).
The team identified two major problems that their headphone-using peers encounter while on the road: (1) Kids can become involved in nasty road accidents due to being distracted, (2) Kids become prone to getting mugged or having their phone stolen. Clever Wherever aims to solve both.
The app locates the user in realtime (using geolocation) and highlights accident and crime hotspots nearby. It warns the user if an area is deemed dangerous - information provided by the Department for Transport - by giving a sound alert when the user approaches the danger zone. To attract more usage from young people, the kids added a gamification element to the app by including a preference section where young people can personalise their user experience. They also added a points / badge system with which users can collect prizes from local sponsors.
Features that weren't included (due to lack of time and / or complexity):
- Colour alert that lights up the mobile phone screen in red, amber or green for high, medium and low danger respectively. Once the user exits the danger zone, the screen would return to normal.
- Phone vibrates once the user enters a danger zonoe and vibrates once more once that zone has been exited.
- Themes and wallpapers for the app to make it more fun for young people to use.
Data sources used:
Some Amazing Facts About the Kids
- Combined, they can code in 11 programming languages.
- In addition, they are proficient in an additional 5 technologies and editing software.
- "The twins" recently won Best Design in an app competition, and their app is currently being built.
- Another youngster is currently working on a programme that models the landing of a spacecraft on the moon, programmed in Pascal and Lazarus.
- And yet another youngster began coding at the tender age of 7. He is now 12.
My Key Takeaways
Young people don't know limits or boundaries. They are not restricted in their thinking and imagination. There was an immediate readiness to think outside of the box, something that can take much longer in us adults as we have been shaped and conditioned by our experiences and environment. Being at YRS showed me that there is something very special and inspirational about child-like thinking.
My favourite moments
There were many, many moments that made me chuckle and get on Skype to eagerly share with Dan. But my favourite moment of all was when one of the older and wiser kids declared that HTML wasn't really a [programming] language. In response, the girls screamed in a chorus: "IT IS TOO!!"