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Middle-schoolers Plant Seeds for a Budding App

Six eighth graders from the Kyrene School District in Arizona think they have figured out a way to help their generation think “green.” In fact, they’ve even won a prize for it.

The intrepid team from Kyrene Aprende Middle School has developed a mobile application that helps kids use peer influence to make positive environmental change every day.

Their app, Endurvinna, creates a competitive social media environment to encourage sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle choices. The app lets users earn points for “green deeds,” such as recycling, while they compete with their friends and even earn prizes.

The students were among the Best in Nation winners for this year’s Verizon Innovative App Challenge, earning their school a check for $20,000 to support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs. They also won help from experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to take their app from concept to the marketplace.

With guidance from teacher Eric Santos, the team of Matt Hayes, Mitchell Laukonen, Udayketan Mohanty, Quinn McGrath, Alex Agnick and Evan Stewart approached the app challenge by first mapping out ideas under each of the three Verizon Foundation focus areas – education, healthcare and sustainability.

“The whole process of coming up with the idea for the Endurvinna app was very organic,” said Santos. “I started throwing some parameters out at them, and asked them which of these would help people?”

From there, the students developed more strategic ways to make their app relevant, even naming it with the Icelandic word “endurvinna,” meaning “to recycle or go green.”

Santos pushed them to think about how the app would motivate people, encouraging them to consider a reward system and interaction among users. The team researched other apps and unearthed the gems that made those apps functional and successful – a reward system and the ability to connect with other users.

The students also gained a much better appreciation of the design and planning processes, according to Santos.

“I’m really proud of my students,” said Santos. “I’m impressed with how motivated they’ve become as a result of their success in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge. Several of them are inspired to pursue engineering and software oriented careers.”

The Kyrene Aprende team will get virtual and onsite training in coding and app development using MIT APP Inventor to develop Endurvinna. They’ll spend several months collaborating with Master Trainers from the MIT Media Lab before presenting their app in its final form in Dallas this summer.