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Hackathon Teaches Students Innovative Problem-Solving Skills

Post by Dennis Washington from Alabama NewsCenter

More than 100 Birmingham middle schoolers offered their solutions to some difficult energy problems during a “Hackathon” in Hoover.

The Birmingham chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) held its first-ever Hackathon at Alabama Power’s Energy Center on Thursday. Seventh graders from W.J. Christian School spent much of the day working in teams to develop answers to challenges or problems in areas such as energy efficiency, smart neighborhoods and electric vehicles.

“I think it’s important we introduce kids to really broaden their horizons at an early age,” said Phillip Coffey, chairman of the Education and Scholarship Committee of the AABE Birmingham Chapter. “It automatically broadens and increases their options for the future. It just makes them way ahead of the game.”

The teens were grouped into teams of eight for the timed competition. A panel of judges selected a winner based on the solution and the process of arriving at the solution.

“These skills they receive today are transferable to any area of their life,” Coffey said. “To start from the problem to working out a solution, brainstorming, what’s the best strategy to solving this problem and then moving it through to implementation — that is going to go with them, not only through school, but that helps them on their jobs and in their personal lives. This helps to train them in critical thinking.”

Coffey said the idea of a Hackathon came from the national AABE, which created the event several years ago to help students develop program alterations in a timed event. The AABE says its national Hackathon is a new way to affect change by ensuring innovative energy solutions include diverse inputs.

“It plays into the atmosphere of what is going on in our community, our city and in our nation,” Coffey said. “We’re talking about buzzwords such as innovation and energy efficiency. Hackathons, coding, ideas — all of that is the buzz in the air.”

For more information about the AABE, visit

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