WWCode Career Nav #19: Educational Solutions From The Hackathon for Social Good

WWCode Career Nav #19: Educational Solutions From The Hackathon for Social Good

Written by Jaclyn Brothers


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Jaclyn Brothers, Software Engineer at 100Devs, shares her experience with Women Who Code’s Hackathon for Good 2022. She shares her background and her inspiration for her project, “Prep and Step.” She discusses the steps for building her demo and some challenges she faced along the way.

Jaclyn Brothers, Software Engineer at 100Devs, shares her experience with Women Who Code’s Hackathon for Good 2022. She shares her background and inspiration for her project, “Prep and Step.” She discusses the steps involved in building her demo and some challenges she faced along the way.

I previously worked as a speech therapist for six and a half years. At the beginning of the pandemic, I saw that many of the students I worked with had difficulties using and participating in the available virtual materials. We had static PDF files, which were not very engaging. I went to look for different educational games and websites. As I was building that library, I started thinking I wanted to create materials for them. Something that the students could interact with more, and it would be customized to their goals and interests.

While developing those projects, I freelanced with different clients to build my programming skills. That’s when I found 100Devs, and I joined them. Not only has 100Devs helped me build my programming skills, but also my ability to problem solve and brainstorm the different ed tech projects that I’m creating. My focus is to increase student accessibility, engagement, learning, and mastery of skills. 100Devs is an agency with a training program for software engineers. The Discord community is super welcoming and supportive to everyone from any level or background. So many people there have a tech career already or, like me, they’ve transitioned into a career in tech.

I found out about the Women Who Code Hackathon for Social Good on Twitter and joined immediately. I saw that the Women Who Code mission was something that I wanted to be a part of. I created a project demo called Prep and Step. While as a speech therapist, I saw many children with special needs struggle to adapt to a change in their routine. Some of these sudden changes could be a fire drill, a scheduling change, or a family emergency. Those changes can cause children sometimes to feel stressed and upset because they also want to keep doing the activity that they are doing. They might have difficulty understanding certain abstract concepts or vocabulary, which adds to their frustration.

One of the tools that special education classrooms, families, and individuals already use is what’s called a Visual Schedule. This is typically a vertical column with activities from top to bottom in the order of what the daily routine is going to be. Each activity is represented with a picture. Seeing that visual can make it easier for students. It helps improve their reactions to unanticipated changes. You find that corresponding picture if something like a fire drill comes up. You put it between those two activities, and students can see, “Oh, okay. So we’re going to stop reading, we’re going to do this fire drill, but when we come back, we’re still going to have play time, and we’re still going to have the other activities that we usually do for the day.” It helps with that, curving that frustration.

Those visual schedules tend to be laminated or on paper; sometimes, they’re not always available to take on the go. They’re not always convenient and practical because you’re shuffling for that corresponding picture symbol you need to use for the coming change. That inspired me to create Prep and Step as an in-progress virtual Visual Schedule. Users can prepare upcoming events for that day before stepping into their daily routine. It helps them more easily be able to adjust that schedule for whatever is going to happen.

Working on my first hackathon was challenging but also very exciting. I remember seeing that on Twitter and thinking, “Okay, I’m going to join immediately.” I decided to work by myself. I created a small demo for people to use daily, which was awesome. It was also really cool to be pushed to try something new. Beforehand I had just programmed activities or simple projects for student groups. This got me thinking in a different mindset of, “What’s a tool that I could use to help families?”

I started by doing the basics of what I knew. I started using HTML to plan the website’s structure and CSS to get general styling of the website and to see how I wanted it to look. I used picture symbols from a wonderful website called opensymbols.org. It’s a collection of free open, licensed picture symbols for people to use for alternative communication. I also started working on JavaScript as I chose the picture symbols I wanted for the demo. So basically, I wanted the program to respond to mouse clicks. When the user logs in, they see the vertical column, it has five activities so far, and each activity has a default image or a placeholder image.

First, the user would select the default image they want to replace and see all the picture symbols appear. I have picture symbols for simple things you might have during the day. There’s a picture symbol for breakfast. There’s one for going to the park, reading, or speech therapy. They would pick that symbol. Let’s say the user wants to start their day with breakfast. The JavaScript replaces that default image with the icon they chose and then hid the rest of the icons. That way, they don’t get confused by all the other picture symbols still up. The user can name the activity whatever they would like, so they don’t have to have it, say breakfast; they could have it say mealtime or something different.

Some of the problems or challenges I faced included toggling the picture symbols with JavaScript. That took me a couple of days to figure out. It made me think about how I wanted these pictures to look on the general layout and how I wanted the layout to respond when all these pictures appeared. What order do I want these pictures to appear in? It was cool to have these additional hurdles come my way and be able to troubleshoot on the spot with those. Then I could experiment with JavaScript to see how everything looked. There are some bugs with the demo, it’s still a work in progress. Amazingly, the Hackathon allowed me to try something new and experiment in a way I hadn’t before.

The most memorable moment for me from this process was having all the picture symbols displayed for the first time when the user clicks a default image—getting over that first hurdle and seeing the progress taking shape. I want this to become an application where families or individuals can create their accounts. They can upload their images or search the open symbols database to see if there are any images they’d want to choose. I wanted to have an offline mode, I think it’s so important to have a reliable offline mode that can work on any device so that it truly can be responsive when somebody is on the go.

I think joining a Hackathon is terrific. I think joining the Hackathon helped me set a deadline, helping me set a goal for myself that I could reach. Setting a goal and then keeping a target deadline can help you. I found that when I got to that deadline, I could have created something I would never have thought of creating before the hackathon. It gave me a lot of ideas for how I want to improve it in the future. Finding a supportive community, whether it’s Women Who Code, 100Devs, or friends in tech that is supportive, is so important. It helped me when I needed to ask for help. Sharing my wins as the project was developing and celebrating other people’s wins with their projects. It not only helps fuel your motivation to keep building your project, but it also creates this really strong connection and sense of community that you have with others in tech. It makes it so exciting.

You can make something impactful, even if it’s just a demo. For me, my project is still a work in progress. Knowing that people could use it right now, even in a limited sense, is cool. Not only is it cool to share with people so that they can try it out and use it, but you can also talk about it with others in tech. Don’t be afraid to share your demos or your in-progress applications with others. Find those people that are supportive of you and whom you can reach out to at any time and talk with them. You’ll get some awesome ideas from people and some great feedback. That encouragement is going to fuel you to keep going.

Guest: Jaclyn Brothers, Software Engineer at 100Devs
Producer: JL Lewitin, Senior Producer, Press and Digital Content, Women Who Code