Students Help Hikers Navigate Trails With Smartphone Guide

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Pacific Northwest culture combines a love for the outdoors with an increasingly connected lifestyle. A group of seventh graders at the Open Window School in Bellevue, Wash., tapped into that thirst for technology that tames the wilderness.

The team’s proposal to build a hike app that informs hikers about plants, animals and conditions they’ll face along trails earned them one of eight “Best in Nation” awards in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge. The contest asks middle and high school students to apply science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge to develop mobile apps that address needs in their local schools or communities.

Titled “HikeAbout,” the hike app is now being developed by 12- and 13-year-olds with coding assistance from MIT mentor Dr. Yu-Chang Hsu. When finished, HikeAbout will be a guide to trails in Washington State, highlighting popular routes and warning of local mountain lions, ticks or poison oak, if necessary. Their proposal was chosen from nearly 1,300 entries.

By focusing on the flora and fauna of local hiking trails, the Open Window School team is tackling a community need in the Pacific Northwest, where hiking injuries and accidents occur each year. Once developed, the HikeAbout app will include map and emergency assistance features in addition to education on local wildlife and plants.

“People get lost a lot so we thought there is nothing that really helps them find their way easily,” said Emerson Jones, a member of the hike app team, in a recent interview with local media.

For the national win, each of the five student team members received a Samsung Galaxy Tab, courtesy of Samsung Telecommunications America, and the school received a $20,000 grant for STEM education. In June, the students and their teacher will travel to the 2014 National Technology Student Association  Conference in Washington, D.C., where they will present their new hike app.

“The Innovative App Challenge provided an amazing opportunity for our middle school students to go beyond the Technology Lab on campus and into the real world, imagining solutions to real problems in our community and then partnering with Verizon to bring the innovative idea to fruition,” said Open Window Head of School Jeff Stroebel.


In addition to Open Window 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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