From Hacking to Habits - High School Students Make Big Changes In Just 24 Hours!

By Michelle Ferguson

Between all the assignments, presentations and exam prep, it can be tough for students to squeeze in enough Zs.

Rather than groggily shuffle from class to class, a group of students from Harry Ainlay High School and Old Scona Academic created an app to help them get a solid eight hours.

Habit Creator is a game-enhanced habit tracker that helps users set, track and achieve personal goals. It was developed as part of HackED Beta — a 24-hour hackathon put on by the Computer Engineering Club of the University of Alberta.

Users choose an overarching habit, then set daily tasks that will help engrain the desired behaviour into their routine. Every time a task is accomplished (for example, avoiding blue light prior to sleeping), the user is awarded points.

This is where the gaming element comes in. Each user is granted a virtual grow space. At first this space is very basic — just grass and sun. As users accumulate points, elements such as flowers and trees are added to the environment.

Students from Harry Ainley High School and Old Scona Academy present their habit tracking app at DemoCamp 43.

Students from Harry Ainley High School and Old Scona Academy present their habit tracking app at DemoCamp 43.

“People often have something that they want to habitualize,” Harry Ainlay student Phillip Sawyer says, “but they lose motivation quickly through the month.” By adding a gamified element to the often-tedious task of habit tracking, Sawyer and his classmates hope to incentivize users to stick to their goals.

While the animation-based grow space was inspired by the critically acclaimed iOS and Steam phenomenon, Mountain, the idea for a habit tracker came out of discussions with several mentors present at the HackED Beta event.

Like most innovations, the app stems from a problem the students were facing. The group was encouraged to find a solution with the greatest impact on others.

Since the students came from different schools — where they gained most of their computer science knowledge — choosing a programming language was a bit of a challenge. While Harry Ainlay students were familiar with the web suite of javascript, CSS and HTML, their Old Scona counterparts had to learn on the fly.

This was especially challenging for Old Scona senior Wendi Yu, who recently switched streams from biology to computer science.

Phillip Sawyer presenting at DemoCamp 43.

Phillip Sawyer presenting at DemoCamp 43.

Wendi Yu presenting at DemoCamp 43.

Wendi Yu presenting at DemoCamp 43.

Despite having to learn and implement a new programming language in 24 hours, Yu said the experience was invaluable. “It’s more realistic than what you learn in a classroom,” she explains. “Part of the reason I figured out I didn’t like biology is that I worked at a lab at the University of Alberta over the summer. I wanted to find out early if computer science was something that I like.”

Both Sawyer and Yu also enjoyed working as part of a team — brainstorming, dividing labour and meeting a hard deadline like a true development team.

Habit Creator placed Top 3 out of 14 teams at HackED Beta, which was held Nov. 17, 2018 at Startup Edmonton. The winning projects included a Twitter heat map and a wearable technology game called Guba Rush.

Students from Harry Ainley High School and Old Scona Academy present their habit tracking app at DemoCamp 43.

Students from Harry Ainley High School and Old Scona Academy present their habit tracking app at DemoCamp 43.


Find your place in the startup community!

We love working with students at Startup Edmonton! The Computer Engineering Club at the University of Alberta is hosting its next Hackathon on January 19 and we can’t wait to see the next round of projects made by hundreds of students!

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