More than 10 percent of today’s public school students are English language learners (ELL) and even more students speak a language other than English at home. This includes a group of students from Denver-based Altona Middle School who were recently selected as the Best in Nation winners in the fourth annual Verizon Innovative App Challenge.
Four students from Altona Middle School submitted their app concept for “Diction Defender,” a gaming app that will help teach sentence fluency and composition. The idea for the Diction Defender app came while the students were brainstorming ideas of how to not only help ELL students, but anyone learning English. The Innovative App Challenge encourages middle and high school student teams to develop a mobile application concept that addresses a need or problem in the students’ communities or schools.
Diction Defender is a survival game where players are stranded on a desolate island and to escape, they must make good sentences based on certain requirements. The players must then go through a number of levels to earn rewards such as costumes, tools and badges. The app will also have multiplayer mode for users to work together, collaborate and learn new writing skills to move up the leaderboard.
“We hope Diction Defender will cater to those who struggle when it comes to writing one’s ideas and thoughts,” says team captain, Advika Jayanti, age 12. The team wants users to be able to learn through an interactive game without realizing it.
“English was one of our struggles – some of our parents were immigrants and don’t speak fluent English,” added Rachel Su, age 12.
The team reflected on how much time and attention to detail were involved in creating an app that was both useful to a broad range of users while remaining unique enough to stand out. “Once we got the idea, we spent many days working on it, even staying after school and working during our break,” said Jeffrey Hew, age 12.
Verizon’s Innovative App Challenge is designed to inspire interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The 2015-2016 competition marked the first year that submissions could come from nonprofit and community organizations along with schools.
Through their hard work, the team now holds the title of Best in Nation, receiving $20,000 for their school’s STEM program, along with LG tablets for each team member. They will now turn their concept into a real, working app with help from an MIT coding expert to help launch their winning app in the Google Play store. Additionally, they will present their app at the National TSA Conference in Nashville, Tennessee in July.