Going bananas for hackathons

Some of The Spice Guys team from Oatlands District High School, Tasmania.

Students jumped into the ANSTO Hackathon this National Science Week, putting their design thinking, science and technology skills to the test to come up with innovative ideas on the theme of Food: Different by Design.

Hackathons bring innovation into science

Hackathons bring teams together over a short time to find solutions to challenges, focussing on the needs of users, iterating designs and being open to feedback – all excellent 21st century skills. ANSTO teams were also mentored by experts in design experience, and industry mentors.

Kendylle Byers from the winning team at Oatlands District High School in Oatlands, Tasmania, which won for the second time after taking out the prize pool last year, says her team “threw ideas around and eventually our big idea came together”.

The team came up with a way to reduce waste from potato farms where water logging damages the vegetables.

“We looked at how we could make it more sustainable and cost effective. The end product came together quite naturally as all of us threw on different ideas then we researched them all to see if they were plausible. The whole process of coming up with an idea turned out to be fun and being able to discuss our ideas with our mentors helped bring the whole solution together. Overall, this experience is one we will all remember and would definitely recommend.”

Watch Oatland’s team The Spice Guys’ winning pitch:

Teacher Tarnith Kelly says the students have gained many skills from participating in the Hackathon two years in a row.

“They have gained invaluable teamwork skills, have learnt how to go through the design thinking process and understand how exciting developing new ideas can be.

“However the biggest takeaway from the competition is that it has given them the confidence to tackle real world problems and realise that they have the potential to make real change in the world.”

Reducing food waste

Winning junior team St John Bosco College in Piara Waters, WA came up with an idea to reduce food waste by adding a blue composting bin to kerb-side waste pickup and a food processing facility that then ferments waste food to create fertiliser and biofuel.

“It was an amazing experience that pushed us beyond what we could have thought. The joy we felt when we won will stay with me forever,” says team member Isabelle Brass, Year 8.

“The knowledge that we gained during the Hackathon will definitely help us later in life,” adds Lachlan Cotter, Year 8.

The team had this to say about their experience:

“With the end user firmly in mind thanks to the design process, we created what eventually would become our prototype. When we tested it, we discovered flaws in our theory and potentially dangerous by-products with our prototype.

“Research was needed to find solutions to our problem, so we broke into teams according to our skills. A Minecraft team started creating a digital world, the model team found maps and started working on the model, our video team sprang into action and finally an “English” squad started filling out paperwork and writing the script. Rehearsals and footage “grabs” were completed and, by then, the research team had come up with some solutions, namely red LED lighting.

“The model was modified to suit this new information and footage was edited into the final video. The final meeting with our mentors drew our attention to our end user once again so we checked through everything for that focus. That completed, we submitted our project very happy with our efforts.

“Through it all, the advice from our mentors and industry experts was invaluable. The design process works, and it allowed us to apply our scientific knowledge to the problem to suit the needs of our end user.”

Watch St John Bosco team Big Brain Bosco’s winning pitch:21st century skills

Teacher Marc De Lima says his main aim in running the Hackathon at St John Bosco was to “focus on the 21st century skills necessary for success”.

“From creativity to communication, collaboration to critical thinking or from imagination, interpretation and innovation, the Hackathon tapped into the existing skill set of my students and pushed them to develop as individuals and as a team.

“It has been an indescribable journey of self-discovery and excitement, one where the actual prize and accolades were dwarfed overall by the learning journeys undertaken by my students.”

Big Brain Bosco, the team from St John Bosco College in Piara Waters, WA.

How’s your fridge looking?

Senior runner’s up from Kent St Senior High School in WA came up with not one but two ideas: an app that uses machine learning to track your groceries in the fridge and warn you before you’re veges go off, plus a smart composting bin that creates usable compost for community gardens within a small drum.

“This year our Senior Hackathon team really wanted to bring some fun and creativity into the STEM space through their waste solution and pitch. The opportunity that the national ANTSO Hackathon provides students with across Australia, definitely helped them to achieve this goal! All of our students participate in our CoRE (Centre of Resources Excellence) project-based learning program here at Kent Street SHS so they really get to develop those skills of collaboration, problem-solving, inquiry and critical thinking,” says CoRE coordinator and science educator, Kathleen Booth.

“The best part of the hackathon for me would have to be the experience and learning to work collaboratively with new people to solve a problem.
“I learnt that not everyone is going to agree about everything and there is also a way to work around it, as well as the the planning stage is just as important as the solution,” says Hailey McArthur (Year 10).
“I love participating in this event as it brings my team closer together as we work through each step of the design thinking process to conquer our challenge. I learnt that empathising with the end user is the most important part of creating a solution because this is the person we want to present our ideas to. If it doesn’t suit them then our solution doesn’t mean anything,” Sylvia Blakeway (Year 10).
Heather Catchpole

Author: Heather Catchpole

Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs

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