One Week to the Hackathon!

By this time next week, our fabulous group of parents, pediatricians, educators, designers, and developers will be hard at work hacking during Day 1 of our hackathon! With just one week to go, we’re finalizing all of the details and making sure we have all of the supplies we need. Here’s what’s on our caffeine-fueled brains this week:

Gathering the Troops
We gathered together everyone who will be facilitating, participating in, or documenting the hackathon for a big check-in meeting. We started with reviewing the agenda, but thanks to the thoughtful questions of our designers and developers we quickly honed in on a number of areas we want to refine further, such as:

  • Sharing files and media: How will the designers and developers—all of whom will be working on their personal computers—share files between each other? How will groups share their final projects with us to project to all at the pitches, or later to stakeholders? We want to make sure we enable participants to focus on hacking and not on pesky logistics like how to move files around.
  • What’s the MVP? As media producers, we’re always thinking about the MVP—the minimum viable product. This is essentially the most simplified version of the product that still achieves all of the goals, without all the bells and whistles we one day hope it will have. In this case, we’re trying to understand what the lowest common denominator should be for the products the teams create. Is it a functional, clickable interface? Sketches with detailed notes? An idea that’s been fully fleshed out? How might we develop prototypes in less than two days? While some teams will undoubtedly work faster than others, we want to make sure all teams understand what they need to produce for their hackathon experience to be rewarding and successful. This will also help guide the judging criteria for the pitches.
  • Prototyping tools: There are a number of tools that can make prototyping go much faster—tools that make it easy to simulate interactions or quickly sketch out interfaces. Our designers are planning to spend some time this week familiarizing themselves with these tools so that they can make recommendations to the rest of the designers at the hackathon.

We’ve also held a series of smaller meetings so that we can be as prepared as possible for different approaches from different participants.

Facilitators meeting: All of the facilitators joined together, reviewed the finer details of the hackathon schedule, and simulated one of the hackathon sessions. We fine-tuned some approaches so that goals would be easily understood and resonate with all participants (hopefully!), and so that the session would easily launch us forward to the brainstorming and prototyping phases. We learned that having a facilitator’s guide on-hand with prompts and brief tips (based on our simulation) would be helpful. We plan to host another planning and simulation meeting next week too.

Food finalized!
People will not go hungry at the hackathon! Thanks to local restaurants, we have some delicious meals that will be provided at no-cost and low-cost for our attendees. Meal menus have been finalized and orders have been placed.

Swag and Stuff
We have swag! All participants will receive a super-cool WGBH t-shirt, and parents/pediatricians/educators will also receive a goodie bag of children’s books and puppets. And each community member from the winning team will receive a gift card!

We’re working on gathering the remaining supplies we need. This weekend, we’re making a big run to the store to get everything from brainstorming supplies like large sticky notes and writing utensils, to snacks and water bottles and napkins. A few things we may wait on purchasing until closer to the event—for example, fruit—and other needs will surely pop up as well, so a second store run will be scheduled.

Recruitment Continues
We still have some spots available so we’re continuing to recruit participants. We’ve found that chatting with parents in person is really at the core of the hackathon. The personal invitation allows for conversations and more questions to be answered – the concept of a hackathon is not always familiar and can require some explanation! This is especially true because our hackathon model is unique. We’ve visited and chatted with parents from two of our Head Start partner sites, and another meeting with more parents in the community is scheduled for next week!

Say Cheese!
A big component of our hackathon is documenting the process from start to finish. We plan to have two photographers/videographers from our team at the hackathon next week, and have put them to work coming up with a shot list, interview questions, and video ideas. For example, we know that we want to create a video that others can use to recruit participants to their hackathons. We’ll want to get footage of our participants brainstorming, hacking, presenting, and having a good time. It’s a good idea for the photographers to scope out the space ahead of time to see what the lighting is like and what angles they might get, which they plan to do next week.

It’s all coming together! Keep an eye out for our final updates next week as well as photos and projects from the hackathon.

Two Weeks to the Hackathon!

Only two weeks remain! We are hard at work hammering out all the final details. Here’s what we’ve got going on this week:

Lessons Learned
Several of our project members helped to facilitate a hackathon last week at a partner organization. This was a great learning opportunity for them as they hone their facilitation skills, but also helps our team learn from the successes—and struggles—of other hackathons. Here are a few of the takeaways they brought back with them:

  • Keep participants oriented: At the hackathon, there was a constant visual showing participants what stage of the process they were in. This guide helped keep participants clued in to where they were in the timeline and what would be coming up next.
  • Timing is everything: When gears are turning and ideas are flying, it’s tempting to let the conversation continue. But with a packed schedule, it’s important to stay on time to make sure there’s ample time for every stage so that participants aren’t feeling rushed. We’re looking at adding in some buffer times—a few unscheduled gaps of time—to prevent us from falling behind in the schedule if certain parts do run over.

Gathering Materials
We’re putting together our final list of supplies, both to make sure we don’t forget anything when we head to the store and to keep us on budget. We separated the list into several categories: brainstorming supplies, such as paper, pens, sticky notes, etc.; food and food-like supplies, such as granola bars, apples, plates, napkins, etc.; goodie bag supplies, such as books and WGBH paraphernalia; and space-related supplies, like power strips, extension cords, sign-in sheets and bathroom signs. The list will undoubtedly keep growing as the hackathon gets closer and we think of additional supplies we need, so we’re planning on holding off on purchasing most of the supplies until a day or two before the event.

2016-10-white-on-red-bolocologo-jpgWe’re also continuing to reach out to local restaurants and catering companies that may be interested in donating food for each of the meals. Boloco has generously agreed to donate food for one of the meals!  We’re thrilled (not just because burritos are delicious) and extremely grateful. Thanks, Boloco!!

Where the Parents At?
Participants are continuing to register but we’re still low on parent attendees. We’re going out to partner organizations to do some in-person recruitment. One of our partners suggested that transportation may be a barrier for parents—WGBH is accessible by bus, but may be more than a single bus ride away for some of our target populations—so we’re looking into alternate transportation options. We want to make it as easy as possible for parents to attend because this event is meant to give them a voice in the media landscape.

Next week we’re gathering the troops and making sure everyone knows his or her responsibilities during the hackathon, as well as finalizing any presentation materials and handouts for participants. And, well, everything else! Much more to come as we count our way down to the hackathon!

Three Weeks to the Hackathon!

Three weeks?!? That’s practically tomorrow!

As with any event planning, the to-do list seems to grow the more things we check off the list. Here’s what what’s on our minds this week:

Promotion, Promotion, Promotion

Participants are continuing to sign up, but we still need more! We want the pack the house with passionate parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, designers, and developers! So we’re ramping up our promotion efforts this week by going out to organizations we partner with on other projects to make presentations and personally invite members of the community.

Laying Out the Space

Sorting out the layout of the event space sounds easy—tables and chairs, done. Right? Not quite. We’re trying to tune in to how the arrangement of the space sets the tone for the hackathon and aids—or impedes—productivity.

Think about a typical classroom, for example. If the desks are arranged in rows and columns, what does that tell you about how students are expected to interact with each other? What if the desks are arranged in groups, or in a big circle facing the center?

We want our hackathon attendees to start collaborating from the get-go, so we’re leaning towards round tables spread out throughout the space—close enough for groups to see and hear what others are up to, but far enough that each group has space to spread out and think creatively. Round tables means everyone in the small groups can be seen and heard, and there’s plenty of space in the middle of the table for sketching all the great ideas that come up. We’re also planning to keep each table close to some solid wall space so that the great ideas can expand and later be shared.

And the Winner Is…

At our hackathon, a winning team will be chosen by a panel of judges following final pitches. We want to send the winning team home with special prizes (likely gift cards), but we also want to thank all of our participants with some kind of goodies. This week, we’re thinking through what sorts of goodies our attendees might like. Should it be something that all groups would like, or should we have different goodies for parents versus teachers versus designers/devs? Are t-shirts the way to go, or is there other swag that would be better? And how do we keep the costs in check?

Hacking the Hackathon

We’ve been on a hackathon attending-spree to see what others are doing and to get tips for our own hackathon. This week, two of our staff members are practicing their facilitation skills by facilitating groups at another fabulous organization’s hackathon!

Coming up next week, we’re getting into the nitty gritty details of the event: putting together the final presentation, finalizing the schedule, ordering supplies and preparing packets for our participants. Stay tuned!

Four Weeks to the Hackathon!

Oh, hello again. Another week down and just one month until our hackathon!

If you haven’t yet done so, snag yourself a ticket by visiting And speaking of registration, here’s what we’re focused on this week:

Participants are Registering!
We’re thrilled that registrations are rolling in! We’ve already had designers, developers, teachers, and healthcare professionals sign up for tickets, due in part to our outreach efforts, which have included contacting local museums, early childhood centers, libraries and other organizations to help spread the word, as well as asking our designers and developers to reach out to their professional communities.

Parent registration is lower than that of the other participants, so going forward, we need to focus more of our outreach efforts there. We’ve designed a flyer to send around that we hope will help entice parents to register:


Staff and Volunteer Roles
To make sure the hackathon runs smoothly, we need a great team to support the participants throughout the event. We’ve spent some time this week thinking through what roles we’ll need during the hackathon:

  • MC: The master of ceremonies! This person will set the tone at the beginning of the hackathon, getting participants excited to think creatively and work collaboratively. This person will also keep everyone on schedule, helping participants transition from one part of the agenda to the next.
  • Facilitators: A handful of people are needed to work with the groups of participants, especially during the brainstorming phase. These facilitators will promote positive collaboration and help to make sure that all voices are being heard. During the designing and building phase, the facilitators will be less involved, likely taking the role of floaters (unless the facilitator is a designer or developer, as is the case with some of our staff—they’ll join their group as a participant).
  • Floaters: Less hands-on than the facilitators, the floaters will move from group to group, sitting back and listening or jumping in as needed. This group can include stakeholders or partners who want to see the hackathon in action and listen to the ideas being generated.
  • Coordinator: Someone (or someones) who handles logistics, such as setting up for the next part of the schedule, passing out supplies, taking in the lunch deliver and setting out snacks, and handling anything that pops up unexpectedly.
  • Judges: This oh-so-important group of individuals will listen to the final pitches and select the winners. We’re thrilled to have secured four fabulous judges, including an upper-level National Head Start Association administrator, a pediatrician, a museum educator, and an early childhood educator/ administrator.
  • Documentarians: If an event wasn’t photographed, did it really happen? One or two individuals will be focused on capturing photos and video to use in subsequent reports to stakeholders, and in the materials we will create to help others run their own public media hackathons.
  • Registration: Last but not least, we’ll need someone to sign in participants at the beginning of the event. This is a fairly straightforward task, and is the only one we don’t think we can cover with the staff that we have, so we plan to recruit a volunteer or two to help out.

Tables and Chairs and Coat Racks, Oh My!
As we mentioned before, we’re fortunate that we have a state-of-the-art events space located just a few floors down from us in the WGBH building. Having this space is saving us a ton of time and money. But we’re learning that getting a venue is more than just securing the physical space itself. This week, we put together a detailed megamemo outlining our schedule, expected attendance, and exactly what we need from each group involved in WGBH events, from the team that sets up the furniture, to the folks that help run the slideshow presentations in the auditorium, to the design team that put together art for the digital displays, to the security and cleaning crews. The megamemo then goes out to the head of each department so that the details are known to all well in advance of the event. Drafting up a document like this can frankly be overwhelming, but sorting out these details ensures that we have what we need when we need it, and that the hackathon goes according to plan.

Phew. Not too bad for one week! Next up, we’re thinking about the all-important topic of food. Where will we get it from? Can we find a partner to donate it? Our budget is limited and saving a few dollars on food will definitely help. Whatever the case, we want to make sure our participants are well fed so that they can be thinking creatively and not about their growling stomaches. We’ll also be finalizing the schedule for each of the two days and starting to explore brainstorming techniques to get the creative juices flowing.


Five Weeks to the Hackathon!

First things first: registration is now open for our hackathon, happening on November 18 and 19th! Get all the deets and sign up for a ticket:

How is it that a week has already gone by since our last update? Time is flying and the hackathon will be here before we know it. Here’s what’s on our minds this week:

Nailing Down a Clear Purpose

From the beginning, we knew that we wanted the hackathon to focus on creative problem solving for healthy childhood development. But that’s a rather broad topic, and the further we get in the planning process, the more we’re having to pinpoint exactly what our mission is. How do we frame the problem in a way that makes sense to our participants and provides them enough room to think creatively, without making it too broad that it’s unclear? What aspect of childhood development do we think would our participants be best suited to try to solve? These questions have been swimming around in our heads for a few weeks now, so we’ve decided to try to nail it down as best as we can.

So, without further ado, the mission of our hackathon—the problem we’re trying to solve—is:

Strengthening communication between parents and other adults to support each child’s holistic, healthy development

Let’s unpack that a little:

Parents and other adults: We know that so many different adults touch a child’s life. From parents and other family members, to teachers, babysitters, pediatricians, nurses, and so many more, raising a child takes a whole community of people.

Strengthen the communication: With stress and so many things competing for time, interactions between parents and other adults that care for the child can feel rushed, disconnected, or unbalanced. How can we support ways to not only share information but build stronger relationships that support each other and is centered around the child?

Holistic, healthy development: Health includes physical, cognitive, social-emotional, and mental health. So how can we approach a child’s development holistically and account for all dimensions of health?

Iterating on the Agenda

We’ve had a rough draft of the agenda for a few weeks now, but as we shop it around to different interested parties, we’re refining it further to ensure that participants have the best experience possible and that we use everyone’s time wisely. This week, we met with two lead designers who gave us the following suggestions:

  • Reserve time for participants to get to know each other. Our participants are going to be working in teams for two days, so we’ll want to make sure there’s time for introductions at the very least. Even better would be ice breaker-type activities to loosen everyone up and help them feel comfortable.
  • Show off examples of work that we do at WGBH. Showing participants examples of apps or sites we’ve developed at WGBH—such as the media we create for Peep and the Big Wide World, a preschool STEM property—could help inspire and build confidence in the expertise that our team brings to the hackathon.
  • Reserve time to get creative juices flowing. If you’re running a race, you probably want to warm up first. Same goes for the hackathon: to help our participants best tap into their wells of creativity, we’ll want to do some initial brainstorming exercises to get their mind warmed up.
  • Separate the proposed problems from the proposed solutions. Initially, we were planning to have the parents/teachers/healthcare professionals brainstorm problems and solutions, and then pitch those ideas to the designers/developers. Our design leads encouraged us to have the designers/developers be involved in generating those solutions. Not only are the designers and developers professional problem-solvers, they’re also likely to enjoy being part of the brainstorming process and be more invested in the solutions.

We’re planning to incorporate these great suggestions into our agenda, while continuing to seek more feedback from other team members.

Confirming Who’s Attending

We’re fortunate in that we have a full design and development team in house, so we have reserved hackathon time with a number of our team members. We’ve also begun reaching out to other designers and developers in our community and to parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals. Although the hackathon is still five weeks away, we’ve specified our numbers and are now in full recruitment phase!

We’re also thinking ahead to after the event; we want to make sure we schedule time now for post-hackathon reflection with the participants (through surveys) and our team (in person). So stay tuned!

Register for Our Hackathon!

Registration is now open for The First 8 Years public media hackathon!

Get tickets here:

Date: November 18 – 19, 2016
Location: WGBH Studios, 1 Guest Street, Brighton

We’re inviting parents, teachers, health care professionals, designers, and developers for a weekend of creative problem solving! During this free two-day event, you will brainstorm and build media solutions that promote healthy child development. Meals and snacks will be provided for all participants.

Learn more and sign up for tickets at our Eventbrite event page.

Six Weeks to the Hackathon!

The date is set for our parent engagement hackathon, so we’ve hit the ground running! Planning a large event like this is no easy task, so we’re breaking it up into smaller steps to make it more manageable and to ensure that we don’t overlook important pieces. Here are some of the key aspects we’re focusing on this week:

Securing a Venue

If you’ve ever planned a wedding or large party, you know that almost everything depends on finding the right venue. A space to host your hackathon will be your biggest and likely most inflexible resource, so it’s best not to advertise the hackathon date until the venue’s availability has been confirmed.

Luckily for us, we’ve got a fabulous space right here at our station. The WGBH studios include state-of-the-art events spaces where private and community events are held regularly. Supporting these facilitates is a fantastic team of public media folks, so we know we’re in good hands! The studios are also accessible by bus, have plenty of parking available, and are wheelchair accessible—all important factors to consider when looking for the right space.

Setting Up Online Registration

Now that we have the space and date set, we’re eager to start signing up participants. The WGBH events team recommended that we use Eventbrite, an online service for creating and promoting events. Our hackathon event is free to attend, so using Eventbrite to manage registration is free. And super easy! Setting up the event takes minutes if you have all of the necessary information ready to go.

We started to create the event but realized we still needed to answer questions like:

  • How many tickets should be available? As much as we would love to have everyone who wants to participate attend the hackathon, we know there’s a limit to how many participants we can actually accommodate. But we also know that not everyone who signs up for an event actually shows up, so we need to pad that number somewhat. And we’re looking for an even distribution of parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, designers, and developers, so we’ve decided to separate tickets into those categories. That way, when it gets to be crunch time, we can see where we’re short and focus our recruitment efforts on that particular category of attendees.
  • How much detail should we provide? We’ve been circulating a proposed agenda internally, but we’re not ready yet to share it with our participants because it may change between now and the event. On the other hand, we want to provide enough details so that participants know enough about what they’re signing up for to know if it’s a good fit.
  • What should the hackathon be called? Although we’ve been referring to it as the “parent engagement hackathon”, we know that a snazzier name could make it more enticing for participants. Brainstorming a new name has shown us that striking the right balance between informative and enticing can be very tricky…
Finding a Partner

We’re looking for an organization that can co-host the hackathon with us. Ideally, that partner organization would provide skills and experience that are different from and therefore complement our strengths. Identifying and bringing on partners is always a challenge, but is also an opportunity for immense growth! We definitely recommend securing a partnership early in the process, and even if partners need to bow out, be understanding and use that as an opportunity to meet another partner in the community!

Needless to say, it’s been a busy few weeks. In the next week we’re going to turn our attention to spreading the word about the event and recruiting participants, as well as sorting out what resources we need (food, supplies, volunteers, and so on). Check back in a few days for more updates on our planning process!

New Models for Parent Engagement

With funding support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, our First 8 Studios team at WGBH is looking into new models for public media to promote parent engagement.

Our approach?


Take a peek at a pilot Hackathon we held at the 2016 New England Head Start Association Regional Training conference. Special thanks to our fabulous participants! We loved working with you!

Our next First 8 Studios Hackathon will be held in Boston this November! Join us!

What Is Next Generation Preschool Science?

Next Generation Preschool Science brings together educational researchers from SRI Education and EDC, public media producers from WGBH, and preschool teachers and children to create rich early science curricula that integrate tablet-based and traditional learning experiences. Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation, the team…