Safer Driving App Development Helps Young Teens Learn STEM Skills

An app to help teens be safer behind the wheel has driven a team of students from Meyzeek Middle School in Louisville, Ky., to become one of the eight Best in Nation winners in the third annual Verizon Innovative App Challenge. The Meyzeek team app concept, titled Log N’ Learn, provides information about driver education.

The national competition, created by the Verizon Foundation in partnership with the Technology Student Association, challenged student teams to develop mobile application concepts that address a need or problem in the students’ communities or schools.

The Meyzeek student team learned they had reached the pinnacle of the contest when they attended what they thought was just another lecture in their school auditorium.  As it turned out, the students become the center of attention at a surprise news conference in which Verizon announced to them and their classmates that they had won. Surrounded by banners, balloons, their parents, teachers, the school superintendent, elected officials and TV cameras, the students accepted a check for $20,000 for their school. Verizon also gave each member of the team a Samsung Galaxy tablet and an all-expenses- paid trip to the National Technology Student Association Conference in Dallas this summer.

Meyzeek Middle School of Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) offers enrichment courses designed to engage students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) process. One of the students’ parents had read about the Verizon Innovative App challenge in an online STEM forum, and noted that it was designed to ignite students’ interest in STEM programs. The parents saw it as a perfect fit and encouraged the students to enter. 

“JCPS promotes innovation by our students through instruction that inspires,” said Dr. Donna Hargens, JCPS Superintendent. “I congratulate these students on their groundbreaking work and thank Verizon for inspiring young people to think outside the box.”

The student team, made up of Anjali Chadha, Aditya Mehta, Jacob Loffe, Mark Raj and Allison Tu, began working on their safe driving app concept in 2013 after they and another student (who is now in high school) developed a different concept for the contest and placed Best in State. “Determined to win at the national level, the students spent countless hours after school and on weekends working on Log N’ Learn,” said Chris Burba, Meyzeek principal.

The students brainstormed around the three core Verizon focus areas of education, healthcare and sustainability, came up with several ideas and weighed them against originality, creativity, competitive landscape and uniqueness to the mobile platform. The team had several ideas that would fit in the market place, but there were some ideas that particular students felt personally passionate about. The team decided they had to come up with some kind of objective scoring criteria to select the winning idea. Log N’ Learn stood out because each student on the team had a personal story to share from an older sibling or friend who had faced frustrations completing the driver’s licensing process.

“This app challenge proved that these students are on the right path to being the future leaders in the STEM industries,” Burba said. “It gave them the opportunity to develop valuable technology skills such as creating mock-up designs using templates and laying out various user screens and deciding how the app would flow from screen to screen. They were able to think about the whole app at a very high level, but also get into the specifics of designing each screen and button.”

In addition to developing technology skills, the app challenge gave the students the opportunity to meet and present their concept to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock and his driver licensing team, giving them the chance to practice interviewing skills at a young age and to hear feedback from highly credible sources.

“The students learned a lot about teamwork and how to work towards a common goal in a respectful way,” Burba added. “These are the types of skills that are important no matter what field of profession they choose.”

Here is a link to a YouTube video that Meyzeek created about the team’s Log N’ Learn app development process.

Trevor Thomas is a public relations manager with Verizon Wireless. Follow him on Twitter at: @VZWtrevor.