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Southern Alberta students get coding at Picture Butte hackathon

Southern Alberta students tried their hands at coding and data analysis at Tuesday's "Hackathon" event in Picture Butte.
Southern Alberta students tried their hands at coding and data analysis at Tuesday's "Hackathon" event in Picture Butte. AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson

Students from school divisions across southern Alberta got the chance to try their hand at some in-demand digital literacy skills on Tuesday.

The students attended a hackathon hosted by Picture Butte High School. The event featured a series of challenges that required students in grades seven to 12 to learn how to code and practise data analysis using information from the City of Lethbridge and Statistics Canada.

“This entire day is about exposure,” said Jason Kwasny, a technology integration specialist for Palliser Regional Schools. “[It’s about] just making sure that our students are getting exposed to some extracurricular ideas that maybe they wouldn’t see normally.
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“They see the basketball, they see the athletics — and that’s great — but there’s a certain portion of our population that doesn’t really fit into those. This is an opportunity for them to get a little more exposure and shine a little bit.”

READ MORE: YWCA Lethbridge teaches young girls how to code using robots

Kwasny added that part of the value of events like the hackathon is for the instructors as well.

“For our teachers and our schools, I’m super excited, because I’m hoping they take some of this stuff into their classrooms and start to apply it,” he said.

“The guys from Callysto (a federally-funded, free learning platform) are so wonderful, they’re willing to work with us to create notebooks and projects at no charge to our schools, so I’m hoping that we get some teachers stepping up and taking advantage of that.”

Callysto partnered with Palliser Regional Schools to host the event.

“The whole point of Callysto is to introduce students to computational thinking and data science within the regular curriculum,” said David Hay, the Alberta ambassador for Callysto.

“We definitely think that that’s an important process, knowing that you can do these sorts of programming challenges and you can use the tools that are used in industry, even while you are still in junior high or high school.”

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Feedback from many students at the event was positive.

“I’ve always been interested in computer programming and this was a good opportunity to try it out,” said Jackson Lowe, a Grade 12 student in attendance from Winston Churchill High School.

READ MORE: Teaching coding in Canadian schools: How do the provinces measure up?

Students who attended the event came from a number of school jurisdictions, including:

  • Holy Spirit Catholic School Division
  • Horizon School Division
  • Kainai Board of Education
  • Lethbridge School District
  • Livingstone Range School Division
  • Peigan Board of Education
  • Palliser Regional Schools
  • Westwind School Division

Organizers from Callysto said it’s a great way to get kids excited about potential future careers.

“Basically any career you can think of involves programming at this point,” Hay said.

“Whether we are analyzing processes or looking at how we can analyze any data that we have, we’re doing programming in just about anything.”