At TigerHacks this year at the University of Missouri, Olivia Sandvold, Ben Weinberg and I, worked together to build “Playground News”: A web app for elementary/adolescent aged kids to read and interact with curated news, and motivate family conversation.

Our goal was to help kids increase their literary ability, learn relevant topics through current news, and then encourage dialog over those concepts with parents through provided parental controls and data-driven tooling with insight reports.

Getting Started

After catching a ride from fellow Hawkeyes, we arrived at UM and started looking for a team. Categories at the event this year were centered around presenting media to users, so we began to brainstorm accordingly. After finding a spot and bouncing ideas around for a while, we quickly had a solid foundation of what we wanted to build, and a vision for its potential impact if we could pull it off.

Our Purpose

Midterm election voting was about to start, and we were thinking of ways to use technology to not only increase participation, but to address some more systemic issues about why it was so low in the first place. Kids that are engaged with world news are much more likely to vote, as well as understand and feel comfortable in their environment growing up, so we choose them and their families as a target audience.

We aimed to build a sample platform for a child to use on a regular basis with encouragement from their parents. Kids would be presented with a grid of articles across a variety of subjects, as well as some hand picked by their parents. The user would then choose one that they found interesting, and their profile would continue to be curated based on historic selections. All the while, stats would be kept along the way for family account owners, so they could see what their children were reading about, for how long, at what literacy level.

We hoped that with these tools and some additional methods to “gamify” the experience, kids would be engaged in the news, further develop their comprehension skills, and have conversations with their family about issues going on in the world today that wouldn’t have taken place otherwise.

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Development and Awards

Our prototype didn’t have as many screens as I would have liked for demo interaction, but our idea was solid, and the article view we had conveyed our final goal.

We took home awards for:

  • Best Presentation
  • Runner Up for Best Bussiness
  • Best Use of Domain Our prizes of Raspberry Pis and Chromecasts were then donated to HackIowa to use for future prizes and projects at our own events.

Looking back

We decided to use Django for managing the interaction with our SQLite database, and React for creating views. None of us had used the combination before, and that proved to be difficult down the road. I ended up waiting way too long before I made any of the views, instead of trying to help with Django and learning it for myself. Looking back now, I don’t remember as much of Django as I thought I would, so in future events, I really need to make sure I keep notes as I go.

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