ABC for 123: Intel + CGCC Early Literacy Hackathon

Last month, over 50 students converged at Chandler-Gilbert Community College for 24 hours to make games helping kids learn to read.  Gaining and honing JavaScript skills, these students developed their games based on early literacy concepts explained by Arizona Literacy Director Terri Clark and Cathy Otto from SW Institute for Children and Families.

Figure 1- Along the wall: Pat Baker (CGCC), Renee Levin (Intel), Rick Heumann (Chandler Vice Mayor), Brad Hill (Intel) and Don Wilde (Intel), listening and taking notes from the experts

The kickoff proved nearly too much for one room, with early literacy experts imparting knowledge, Vice Mayor Rick Heumann emphasizing the importance of this task, more than a half-dozen Intel volunteers ready to help and many students eager to get started.

Figure 2- Terri Clark (left), Don Wilde (middle), and Cathy Otto (right) elaborating on their experience and learnings

After thorough introduction to the subject matter and potential approaches, and getting a brief summary of the professional development world from Don Wilde, the students learned the basics of JavaScript game development.  These crash courses feel overwhelming, but sum up the hackathon atmosphere: jump in and find a way to make it work.

Figure 3- Brad (left) and Ashish (right) drop some knowledge

Making Games for Learning

The best way to learn a new technology is to have a project where it is used.  Hackathons serve this purpose perfectly; despite most of the students having no previous experience with JavaScript, the 8 teams of students each developed their own game following the theme:

"Awesome Game"

Drag and drop word parts to form words which are then spoken by the game
Note: requires a mouse/touchpad


"Bubble Time"

Upon seeing image of an animal, select animal name from multiple choices presented


"Color It"

Given an outline and starting letter, select primary color of picture. Correct selection fills image and displays/reads shape name

"Falling Letters"

Catch falling letters to spell the name of the object displayed
Note: requires a keyboard

"Flash Learn"

Given an image and multiple options, select object name

"Fruit-Word Comparison"

Given a fruit image, accept or reject suggested word

"Let's ABC"

Level 1: Cycle through randomly-ordered letter images and hear the names.
Level 2: Identify the letter from hearing the name and seeing part of it

"Put Away"

Drag and drop the requested object into the target location
Note: requires a mouse/touchpad


Looking Forward

These games are excellent examples of how games can put kids on a positive path. Next month, we will be holding the second hackathon, where the participants kick things into high gear, accompanied by students who were unable to attend previously.  The first hackathon produced great proof-of-concept games, and the next will result in more playable creations for our nonprofit partners to use in their crusade for a more literate population. 

You can read more about this hackathon in Meghan McCoy’s article in the SanTan Sun paper -