Resaca Middle School in Los Fresnos, Texas, recently celebrated being named a “Best in Nation” winner of the Verizon Innovative App Challenge. The team of six girls at Resaca is one of just eight teams from across the nation to win the title. The challenge encourages middle and high school students to apply their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge to develop a mobile app concept that addresses challenges in their schools or communities.
Inspired by a visually impaired classmate, the students earned their win by developing an app concept called “Hello Navi.” Once developed, Hello Navi will integrate a variety of digital tools, such as a compass, scanner, voice-over, optical Braille readers and Google indoor navigation technology, to help guide blind or visually-challenged students around their school.
Team adviser and sixth-grade science teacher Maggie Bolado first learned about the contest from a Verizon tweet last September. She rallied her students and ended up sponsoring a total of 35 students on five different teams.
“The greatest challenge was to figure out how to begin,” said Bolado. “I knew early on that this would be the equivalent to ‘writer’s block,’ so I brought in technology experts from the local community. For example, the Hello Navi team received mentorship from a mobility specialist. She helped the students better understand the navigational assistance needed so they could formulate how an app could easily and quickly guide a blind or visually challenged person.”
The students brainstormed before and after school for three months until finally submitting their concepts to Verizon in December. In the end, team Hello Navi’s idea was chosen as a winner.
At the celebratory event in Los Fresnos, Verizon presented Resaca Middle School with a $20,000 grant to help build the app and advance STEM education. In addition, each of the winning team’s members received a new Samsung Galaxy tablet, courtesy of Samsung Telecommunications America.
“There was a sense of accomplishment when all had been submitted,” said Bolado. “Their realization on how much they had been stretched in three months continues to inspire me.”
The team is now working to develop their app concept into an actual app. To build their app, they will learn to code and get hands-on support and training from Verizon employees and members of the MIT App Inventor Training Corps. Verizon will then help the team share and distribute their finished apps via a platform such as the Google Play store.
In late June, the team will present its finished app at the 2014 National Technology Student Association (TSA) Conference in Washington, D.C., June 27 – July 1.
In addition to Resaca Middle School, the other “Best in Nation” middle schools include:
- Cheney Middle School – West Fargo, N.D.
- Jefferson Township Middle School – Oak Ridge, N.J.
- Open Window School – Bellevue, Wash.
This year’s “Best in Nation” high school winners include:
- Bartlett High School – Bartlett, Ill.
- Westford Academy – Westford, Mass.
- North Hills Preparatory School – Irving, Texas
- Helena High School – Helena, Mont.
For the 2014-2015 Innovative App Challenge, teams of five to seven students and a faculty advisor from any public, private or parochial middle can enter from August 4 through November 14.