Effect+CavityChris Connors, Duxbury High School, Technology and Engineering, put together a great contest for kids – here is the story and the winners (MAKE was a judge)… “The contest project was about creating another way for kids to get inspired to try new things. Some of these projects were things that they were thinking or planning to do. Creating the documentation for the contest helps them be able to show their thinking and their creativity. When they can show off what they have done, it is easier for the community to see how good they are. The documentation can also change the way you approach a project. If you know you are going to have to show it and say it, you think things through differently than if you are just getting the job done…”My intent in running the contest was to provide an outlet for creative kids to showcase their work. Making and modifying isn’t really seen as a traditional artform, but it still springs from skill and creativity. I have realized in recent months that there is a strong community exhibiting their makecraft online. When I began to see what people are doing to make their objects of technology more their own, I realized that even though you may not be able to meet these people every day, you can gather with them online.

A few years ago I put a lot of effort into teaching students to write and maintain their own webpages, using a computer I scavenged from the local dump as the server. The projects were good, but since they were only visible over the school network, it was hard to get traction with the projects. Knowing the mechanics of web design is very different from using the web to showcase your ideas and work. My department head, Bob Webster, spent a lot of time one summer learning about the wiki system of web design. He then taught all of the teachers under his supervision how to make and maintain a department wiki. Several teachers in the science department made their own wikis Bob had his students in computer science use wiki to document and store their programming work. I enjoyed that system, but couldn’t quite crack making my own wiki site. Along came pbwiki, and I was off and running. Now it was simple to do. Two of the students who entered the contest started her wiki the day the contest ended.

As far as the photos go, it is so easy now to take photos. You don’t need some special expensive camera. Lots of kids have phones that can take pictures. But how do you share them? Again, it used to be complicated, print them out, show them in albums, make a posterboard, time consuming, costly stuff like that. Over the summer, I started a flickr account and experimented with combining flickr and pbwiki on http://flickwikialaska.pbwiki.com The site was a way for me to test the idea of using the wiki as travelogue with embedded pictures. It allowed me to prove the concept, but kind of fell down as travel writing. As far as the photos went, I maxed out the free account, and then it took too long to activate the premium account, so the pictures are spread over two accounts.

As the school year began, it became obvious that the students at Duxbury High School should be able to join the fun of making good makes. As a new project, I wanted to have it be a volunteer effort. As a class project, it would have had too many requirements. A contest seemed like a good idea. There are other contests out there operated by some great organizations, but they all have timelines, entrance fees and criteria that I don’t have a lot of say over. With this contest, there would be no need for any fees. The hack could be anything suiting the interest of the students entering, so they wouldn’t have to buy any gear if they didn’t want to. The website hosting would be free, as would the photo hosting. The only limitation would be that they had to be DHS students. I didn’t want to have some outsider sliding in on my students’ opportunity, and then having to ship a bunch of stuff to some other town.

By having the judges be from outside the town, it sort of enforced impartiality. The judges would not know the reputation of the students, so would not be swayed for or against anybody. The only way the judges could evaluate the work was to look at the documentation on their sites. It also freed me up to assist any student who asked for my help. I was able to loan software, hardware, electronics parts, a hand to hold a part being tooled. It would have made me feel conflicted to help if I was also a judge. It also seemed to release me at the time of judging. I could honestly say that it was in the hands of the judges. I posted the comments of the judges on the contest site so that the students could read the comments for themselves.

Personally, I was able to use the wrapup of the contest to help me to learn more about podcasting, which I now have a good start at understanding. The project also has given me a template of how to put on a contest. I am planning to organize another contest around fuel efficiency and vehicles. Having a successful contest in the bag should help make the next one run more smoothly, and may help attract sponsors for prizes.

Winners for the Duxbury High School Hack Contest 05
1 Nick Kouble –
http://nickkouble.pbwiki.com/

2 Stephen McKinley –
http://mtnmck.pbwiki.com/index.php?wiki=CompressionChuck
http://mtnmck.pbwiki.com/index.php?wiki=IndestructibleGhettoblaster

3 Tom Cashavelly
http://tcashcontest.pbwiki.com/

Honorable Mention: Chad Conway
http://www.flickr.com/photos/wicky1_projects/sets/990566/

Also, check out this interview with Chris over on i-Hacked.com.