Are these NJ high-schoolers smarter than you? The best ‘hacks’ of the weekend
MANALAPAN — A 4 a.m. tweet from the school district notifies all students of a snow day. But their alarms go off at 5:30 or 6 anyway, and it's not always that easy to fall back to sleep.
This is a problem that absolutely needed solving, according to a group of students taking part in a 24-hour "hackathon" at Manalapan High School from noon Saturday to noon Sunday, which asked hundreds of Freehold Regional High School District students to explore their passion for technology and simply come up with something awesome.
To MHS senior Kohert Chen, and his team, that "something awesome" was a program that disarms your alarm clock when the superintendent says school is cancelled the next day.
"I'm a second-semester senior. I'm just lazy and I just wanted something to help myself, to be totally honest," Chen told New Jersey 101.5 after earning the top score as one of nine "Hacks of Distinction" at the event's closing ceremony.
Students had free rein to create whatever they'd like during the around-the-clock event - using laptops, smartphones and anything else that would help - but projects were generally encouraged to solve a problem.
Fellow senior Robert Steward used the all-nighter as a chance to perfect a project he had already been developing for two months. Using pieces he created with a 3-D printer, his "assisted walking exoskeleton" aims to improve the mobility of paraplegics.
"I am planning on studying biomedical engineering in college, and I was trying to think of an idea for a project to show to colleges," Steward said.
A rare cross-school group, consisting of students from Manalapan, Marlboro and Freehold, developed an app for the blind that senses the denomination of paper money so users know whether they'd holding a $1 bill or a $20 bill, for example.
"A family-friend of mine is blind," explained Marlboro senior Brett Bookbinder. "They use an iPhone and they're really good at it, and I asked them what kind of stuff they'd like developed."
Targeting dieters, and diabetics like himself, Manalapan senior Max Legrand and his team set up an interface through which users can text a photo or description of food and receive instant nutritional information.
On top of free meals and swag, students were treated to a series of workshops covering the world of programming. The event was devoted solely to "hacking" from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m.
"I brought a big bag of espresso beans to keep me up," said Freehold High School senior Josh Rosenberg, whose project uses a motion sensor that lets users create music with a wave of their hand.
"You get tired when you just sit in one place on a computer," added Freehold Township High School junior Scott Schaff, taking a break from his "random story generator" with a pillow and sleeping bag.
Dark rooms were set aside for those who needed some proper rest.
Through a handful of sponsors, the district was able to raise $12,000 in order to make the two-day event a reality. The district also coughed up a couple thousand, according to Dr. Adam Angelozzi, principal of Manalapan High School.
Before awarding students for the best projects, Angelozzi told the crowd this would ideally become an annual event for the district, based on the first attempt's success. Beyond producing impressive ideas, the crew of high-schoolers also managed to go 24 hours without anyone fighting or getting sick, he joked.
Angelozzi and a team of tech-savvy students have been planning the event since last spring. Hackathons are more popular on college campuses.
"It's a place with no restrictions, no qualifications, really no limits on your creativity," said MHS junior Ariel Rakovitsky of the leadership team. "And that's what makes hackathons so magical."
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.