Moonhack 2018: A new world record for kids coding!

On 20th July 2018, kids all over the world participated in Moonhack, a space-themed event to get kids coding.

When I first wrote about Moonhack 2018  it was a month before launch and the anticipation was building like a countdown for a real space mission.

The results are in!

Code Club Australia who lead the event, confirmed that a new world record was confirmed – 35, 865 kids from over 57 countries submitted their coding projects!

Here are a few notes, tips and resources to help you get involved in Moonhack in 2019. However, you don’t have to wait until then! Moonhack 2018 projects are still available and great fun to do!

Running a public Moonhackathon

These events didn’t take too much to organise thanks to the great projects that were available to work with and you can make it as big or small as you can manage. Most Code Clubs run with a teacher, librarian and volunteer(s) and so running a Moonhackathon is actually possible for anyone, even a parent from home with a small group of children.

I helped out at a local public library Code Club event in the school holidays, and I also ran special Moonhack sessions with the Code Clubs, before and after Moonhack.

What we did

At our Moonhackathon event at the Aldinga Library in South Australia, Sarah Roberts, who runs Makerspace activities at the library used the free Visions of the Future NASA space travel posters  as a presentation on the screens in the room, with some some ambient background music to add a spacey feel to our room.  Sarah also made some Moonhack badges for participants and we had Moonhack stickers and certificates.

We helped kids worked through the Moonhack 2018 Scratch project, which involved making a game landing the lunar module on the moon. Like any Scratch project, creativity ran rampant and kids were adding space tacos and wanting the orbiter to dodge cows jumping over the moon. This is always the best thing about working with Scratch – even new Scratchers are smitten with ideas. Some kids did their own space-themed projects. I made the lunar module crash if you burn too much fuel when landing.  

We also showed the children the BBC Micro:bit which I had pre-loaded with the Moonhack Micro:bit Project Lunar Module Simulator game. This was the first time many had seen the Micro:bit, so there were lots of questions that I couldn’t answer (these are always the best questions!) as it was my first BBC Micro:bit project too.

A few kids who came along to Moonhack, were coding for the very first time and it was fantastic to see them turning up to our after-school Code Club the next week.

Although there were no kids doing the Moonhack Python project this time, I had previously worked through the project.  Being relatively new to Python I enjoyed the task of coding to display a list of moons for each planet based on user choice.  An interesting aside was just how current science relates to this project, indicating how relevant the Python project was. The Python project refers to Jupiter’s 63 moons.  Days before Moonhack, scientists announced that more moons had been discovered on Jupiter, now numbering 79. It looks like we all need to update our classes.py now!

Why Moonhack?

Moonhack was also an opportunity to talk informally with kids about how code helped get Apollo 11 to the moon back in 1969 and what code was like back then. I showed the photographs of the Apollo 11 lead software engineer,  Margaret Hamilton, standing next to the code printouts from Apollo 11, the amusing code comments in the public release of the Apollo 11 code on GitHub and related this to adding coding comments in Scratch.  At home, I was even inspired to make a low-tech Apollo 11 shoebox diorama.

What we learned

One hour was enough time for most participants to get through the Scratch project, but it wasn’t enough time to fully explore the role of coding and space travel.  Next year, in 2019 we are already imagining a longer Moonhackathon to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

If you missed out on Moonhack this year, Moonhack 2018 projects are still available and great fun to do. There are Moonhack projects for Scratch, Python, Micro:bit, even a Gamefroot project for those who love their asteroid dodging games.  There are also Blockly and other Micro:bit projects from the Australian Computing Academy.  

You can find other Moonhack inspiration shared on social media around the world through the hashtag:  #Moonhack

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