CAMDEN, NJ— Twenty-five students from KIPP Cooper Norcross Lanning Square and John Greenleaf Whittier middle schools recently used coding and technology to find innovative ways to help people with disabilities.

The students participated in their first ever Hackathon last week at Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees. The event was organized by the UK-based Jewish Interactive, and was focused on the principle of Tikkun-Olam, which is Hebrew for “repairing the world.”

The seventh and eighth graders worked in teams with the students at Kellman Brown Academy to come up with new ways to assist people with disabilities using coding and technology. They had a little over five hours to come up with and design their prototype, write the code and present their idea to a panel of judges that consisted of defense contractors, IT professionals and other professional fields.

Sign Up for E-News

KIPP Lanning Square eighth-grade science teacher Bryan Pawling said the event not only helped the students apply the coding skills they learned participating in the STEM elective class he teaches to real-world situations but also helped them learn to work with students from another school and city.

“It was absolutely amazing what they were able to create,” Pawling said. “When you give kids that much freedom and all your doing is asking guiding questions, what they were able to dive into and create was really just inspiring.”

Other solutions the students came up with were a robotic hand, a device that helps the hearing impaired enjoy music, speech enhancement software, a new cane for the blind and a sensor to help colorblindness.

The winning group designed a security system for blind people that featured a pressure pad sensor in the shape of a doormat, a motion sensor that would make audible noises throughout a house and a sensor that went off when it was hit by a door handle.

“Just seeing what they could do with the technology in that short period of time was really awesome,” Pawling said.

Pawling added that after the initial awkwardness that is common among middle schoolers, the students from KIPP middle schools and Kellman Brown Academy were exchanging online gamer tags to play the popular Fortnite video game together.

“It was cool because the kids broke into groups and every group had KIPP and Kellman Brown kids,” Pawling said. “That went a long way in helping bridge that community between the two groups.”

Pawling added that KIPP Lanning Square has already been invited to the next Hackathon at Kellman Brown Academy and that the STEM elective students will next be focusing on creating a wearable technological device.