Hacking Education: A Contest for Developers and Data Crunchers

The folks over at DonorsChoose.org are running an "open data" context in April that I thought you all might be interested in! DonorsChoose is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help students in need. The difference is that the Donor can target a project directly...you can choose where your $1 goes.

So far, more than 165,000 teachers at 43,000 public schools have posted over 300,000 classroom projects supported by 409,000 citizen philanthropists who have made >900,000 project donations at DonorsChoose.org to date.

That makes for a whole lot of data that is publicly accessible for a contest, after of course scrubbing identifying information about teachers and donors. The resulting info will include everything from the search queries performed by donors; to subject area (civics, geography) and resource type (field trip, technology) of each project; to teacher affiliation (Teach for America, NY Teaching Fellow); to the latitude, longitude, and poverty rate of each school.

Clay Johnson, a leader in helping government agencies open up their data and engage the web developer community, is helping to run the contest. DonorsChoose is hoping that developers, designers, researchers, and number crunchers will be able to use our API and our data to:

  • Identify trends that could impact budgeting or pedagogy, i.e. "3rd grade teachers in the Bronx are submitting 40% more projects requesting listening centers than they were one year ago" or "these are the top 10 novels requested by high school teachers in low-income communities."
  • Build applications that reinvent the DonorsChoose.org experience, i.e. a mobile phone app which shows you classroom projects from schools within a 1-mile radius of where you’re standing; or a classroom project discovery experience based on serendipity.
  • Identify trends in pedagogy through the lens of content of essay requests, resources, geography, eg. "These are the top 10 novels requested by high school teachers in low-income communities."Study the dynamics of an active web marketplace where lots of real money has changed hands (as there are very few data sets of this kind available to the research community).
  • Create a unique mobile-friendly project discovery UX, eg. seeing live/completed classroom projects from schools that are closest to your current location.

I think the MS developer community might really enjoy participating. You can build anything you like but hopefully this list of suggestions will help get your creative juices flowing!

There are 6 data sets, each of which is provided as a single CSV file: Classroom projects, Project resources, Project essays, Donations, Gift cards, Search log (keywords and filters).

There are will be categories for JavaScript, Ruby, Python, PHP and .NET. Scott Hanselman and I will judge the entries for the .NET category. Whoever wins the .NET category gets a free copy of Visual Studio Ultimate, an Xbox 360 with Kinect, and more!

The winner of each category will square off in front of the finalist judges—Arianna Huffington, Fred Wilson, and Wendy Kopp, CEO/founder of Teach For America—to win the grand prize of four tickets to the Colbert Report, where Stephen Colbert will present the winner their trophy and take a celebratory photo together!

I hope you participate and have fun with this great opportunity to write interesting and relevant code AND help a great charity. All the details you need to participate are at http://www.donorschoose.org/hacking-education.

Disclaimer: This is not a Microsoft-run or Microsoft-endorsed contest, we're just helping out by judging because it sounded fun.

Hope this helps!



  • "The folks over at DonorsChoose.org are running an "open data" context in April"... It's a contest not a context. :) Thanks for the heads up. I was not aware of this site. I have quite a few family members that are teachers, so I'm aware of their desire for and typical lack of access to resources. I'll see what I can come up with.

  • Are there any restrictions for the .NET portion? Does it have to be a mobile app? Can we use Silverlight 5?

  • We are so excited to get the .NET developer community's help "hacking education" and very much look forward to seeing contest submissions from .NET developers!!

    It's just so cool that you and Scott Hanselman are participating as contest judges, and that .NET developers will be making discoveries and building apps to help improve education in America.

    Thanks so much!

  • Hi, just noticed from the link you included...you might want to mention that the deadline for the contest is June 30. When you said DonorsChoose is running the contest "in April" I kind of assumed the deadline was a lot sooner than that! Thanks for posting this; I'd heard of DonorsChoose through a friend recently, and had no idea they'd been around for 10 years and had helped so many. That's awesome!

  • FYI/ Your post says that the prize is VS Ultimate, but the web site says it is VS Pro. Regardless, this sounds like a great event! June 30 isn't that far off. I'll have to get started...thanks.

  • It's good to see that .NET is also considered as a category in the contest where Microsoft is not taking a part in the administration of the event. I hope to see many useful applications carrying some brillant ideas to live for students.

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