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Student-Led Education Initiatives
Hack Club's framework facilitates students taking on projects that interest them
I interviewed Chris Walker of Hack Club for Make:cast. He explained that Hack Club was by and for students:
We are the world's largest network of student-led education initiatives. So we don't work with teachers or school districts or principals or parents or anybody, but we only work with students who find us.
I smiled when Chris said that because it was such a bold mission. Hack Club was founded by Zach Latta. Initially, Hack Club was a network of self-organized coding clubs. Latta was a Thiel Fellow, just like Chris. (If you don’t know what the Thiel Fellowship is, it was a $100K award to be used in place of going to college — presumably, to do whatever they wanted to do.)
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Chris had dropped of Dartmouth after a year. He applied for the fellowship and got it. With an interest in both math and video games, Chris wanted to create an educational video game studio. He tried developing a game that he called SineRider, which he describes as a puzzle game that requires the user to write functions. However, he was not able to succeed in building a commercial game studio. After trying a few other jobs, he ended up talking to Latta and joined Hack Club.
He found interest among students at Hack Club for his video game and they had talents that could take the code he had written and make it better. It wasn’t just code but also graphic design and game play. Together, they created a web version of the game at SineRider.com.
Hack Club has many things to offer students based on their interests. “We also facilitate hackathons and student magazines and grant programs and big kind of headquarters projects like SineRider,” said Chris. He’s tried to push on getting students building thing and creating things.
Another project of his, Castle Bravo, turned a bouncy castle into a motorized boat. He originally didn’t involved students because of concerns for safety. Now, he has students who want to convert the boat from a gas-powered engine to a solar-powered electric engine and use an app to control it.
“I know how to make video games and I know how to build bouncy castles and do steel and wood fabrication and stuff,” he said. “But I don't know anything about robotics. I don't know anything about electrical systems, but a lot of my students do because they're involved with robotics clubs or designing their own circuit boards. I have a lot of really smart kids.”
A group of students at Hack Club’s headquarters is building a mini-version of the bouncy castle so they can design and build it on a small-scale before students in the Bay Area apply that learning to the large-scale version.
“My job is pretty much just to provide direction and insight on the craft itself, but it really is a student-driven project,” said Chris. Along with some of his Hack Club students, Chris plans to bring the gas-powered version of Castle Bravo to the Maker Faire Bay Area at Mare Island.