Kid Hackers Learn Creative Thinking and Teamwork

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Hacking doesn’t really mean what it used to. Originally, when computers were in their infancy, a hacker was always someone who had nothing but malicious intentions. Now, “hacking” has evolved to mean doing something differently. Hackers take (or make) shortcuts. They know enough to make really difficult things look easy, and they’re constantly thinking of ways to reinvent the status quo.

Take the new term that’s recently come into the lexicon: lifehacking. A lifehack is just a way to make something in life a little bit easier. Hacks help us work smarter, not harder.

That’s not to say that there aren’t malicious hackers out there. Anyone who has a special talent in any field can use it to their own personal ends, whether it’s computer programming or pie making. There’s always going to be bad people out there who use computers to hurt people. Don’t you want the next generation to know how to use them just as well to help people?

r00tz at DEFCON

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Earlier this month, 175 kids showed up at DEFCON, Vegas’s annual hacker convention, ready to learn some hacking skills.

The kid’s workshop was run by r00tz Asylum, formerly known as DEFCON kids. R00tz focuses on the use of “white-hat hacking” to help kids develop lateral thinking skills. Basically, the philosophy is if you give kids the right skills and tools, they’ll learn to think outside the box.

At the r00tz camp, kids learn how things work by taking them apart and reprogramming them. Kids also learn to use a website called SaaSCrack, which “teaches kids – or adults – how to poke around in online software and websites looking for vulnerabilities. It works like a game.”

SaaSCrack is a clever play on the term SaaS, which stands for ‘Software as a Service,’ the name for the sites we use all the time for things from banking to email. R00tz teaches kids how to look for problems with the websites we use every day to impart an important lesson on privacy and security while they figure out for themselves how things work.

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Also part of the camp’s curriculum is learning how everything that’s connected can be hacked – and everything is connected. Our watches, radios and thermostats can all be controlled remotely. It’s an important job for good-guy hackers to show the public and the companies who make our tech where vulnerabilities lie, and for kids to aspire to be those good-guy hackers.

Kids at the camp were given the challenge to find bugs in the Facebook app for Samsung Smart TVs. Both companies offer a reward to hackers who find bugs in their systems, and some of the teachers at r00tz thought it would be fun to have the kids give it a shot. Within a few hours, the kids found three bugs.

The kids plan on donating most of their money to charity, which definitely puts them cleanly in the good-guy hacker category.

Hackerspace in a Box

Hackerspace is a newly emerging concept where giving people tools, space and community invariably leads to a flourishing of creativity and new ideas. In hackerspace, people build things they’re passionate about in collaboration with others. Information is fostered and shared.

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Hackerspace in a Box is a project by Sparkling Science, a Stokholm firm that teaches corporate leaders, teachers and principals how to lead through fostering creativity and free thinking. The program works with schools to get boxes of hacking kits into classrooms as far away as San Francisco so kids can solve problems using nothing but a few tools, their own creativity and a group of peers to bounce ideas off of.

HackerSpace In A Box with Mission Beacon and Noisebridge from Justin Jach on Vimeo.

Kid’s Hack Day

On August 1st in Stockholm, the same group that’s promoting Hackerspace in a Box will host a “Hack Day.” All kids from all walks of life will show up ready to hack, learn and grow in a brand new way. Adults will work with children to help them unlock the hidden uses of everyday items with the aim of igniting a passion and curiosity for STEM in the next generation. At the one day event, they will “create instruments out of bananas, games out of cardboard and conductive ink, and tinker with gadgets and electronics,” just to name a few activities.

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