North Dakota Students Snap Up Top Honors in Verizon Innovative App Challenge

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Cheney Middle School in West Fargo, N.D., focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in its core curriculum. When Assistant Principal Adam Gehlhar learned about the Verizon Innovative App Challenge from his previous STEM school, which received top honors last year, he knew his students would jump at the opportunity. He was right.

This year, Cheney Middle School’s Snap Docs mobile app concept was one of four middle school and four high school apps named Best in Nation.

“I saw the App Challenge as an authentic and exciting way for our students to apply the skills they are learning every day in their classrooms,” Gehlhar said. “This is the type of challenge that prepares them for real-world applications of STEM learning.”

The Verizon Innovative App Challenge encourages middle and high school students to apply their STEM knowledge to develop a mobile app concept that addresses challenges in their schools or communities.

The Cheney students started with a brainstorm session where each student brought a solution for a need in their school or community. From there, the students selected which app group they wanted to join and focused on their strengths when deciding roles within the teams.

Seventh grader Joram Stith knew there had to be a better way to translate messy handwriting into legible text through a mobile app. The students consulted with a local business and discovered their complex concept could be modified to turn print text into an editable format and the Snap Docs app concept was born.

Along with the “Best in Nation” accolade came the opportunity to bring the app to life. The students are developing Snap Docs with help from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab trainer and the MIT App Inventor program. With the help of Verizon, the app is now in its final stages of development and will be available to download through Google Play in late June.

Led by Toni Stith, a parent volunteer and teacher in the Fargo Public School District, 20 seventh and eighth graders participated in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge after school. The Snap Docs team was one of two teams from Cheney Middle School to advance to the finals. The other team was recognized as one of the “Best in State” winners across the U.S.

“The program allowed the students to be self-directed,” Stith said. “They had creative control of the app concepts, worked to their strengths and used collaboration as a tool to solve problems.”

The team of students won a total of $20,000 in grants to help support STEM education programs at Cheney Middle School. The students and advisor also each received a complimentary Samsung Galaxy Tab courtesy of Samsung Telecommunications America. This summer, the team will present its finished app at the 2014 National Technology Student Association Conference in Washington, D.C., June 27 – July 1.

The students plan to travel to different universities to attend classes on coding and technology to further advance their skills and knowledge in app development. They hope to provide more students with access to programs that teach coding and technology applications this year and next.

In addition to Cheney Middle School, the other “Best in Nation” middle schools include:

This year’s “Best in Nation” high school winners include:

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.

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