Innovative and practical, Prior Lake students' app is a prizewinner

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2014 - 3:25 PM

A team of Prior Lake-Savage sixth-graders took first place in Minnesota for designing an innovative mobile app as part of a national contest.

As technology-savvy sixth-graders, Max DeVos and Ryan Fuller use many applications and websites each day to keep up on schoolwork — from Schoology, a multipurpose site for managing schoolwork, to Google Drive, ConnectEd and their teachers’ own websites.

So when they were asked to design an original app as part of a national contest, they thought: Why not try to organize all of their school-related apps and sites?

The boys aren’t the only ones who thought it was a bright idea — their “Student Central” mobile app concept recently took first place in Minnesota in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge among middle school teams.

They came up with the concept because they “realized that there were so many websites we had to go to [every day],” DeVos said. “It was insane.”

Their proposed app also has other features, like educational games and instant messaging.

To compete, the team of six from the Prior Lake-Savage district wrote an essay and recorded a three-minute video about their idea in just two weeks. They got together a few times, working for four-hour stretches, DeVos said.

They also created a Student Central logo and a mock-up of what the app would look like on a smartphone to “boost our chances” of winning, DeVos said.

The group also includes Anthony Martins, Carter Busch, James Durnbaugh and Tristan Knoeck, who were friends before the project.

“We had tons of fun making it,” Fuller said. “It was great.”

The students didn’t need much help, though DeVos’ mom coached them a bit and “made sure we didn’t kill each other,” DeVos said.

“For the most part, I kind of gave it to them and let them run with it,” said Megan Luckhardt, a gifted-and-talented teacher at Hidden Oaks and Twin Oaks middle schools who helped the team submit its entry. “It’s just neat to see how their minds work when you’re not expecting it, when it’s just enrichment and it’s something fun.”

The contest, now in its second year, encourages middle and high school students to develop a mobile app that solves a problem or is needed in their community, said Karen Smith, a regional spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless.

Another purpose is to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) coursework and careers among students, since there will be three times more growth in STEM jobs than in other areas in upcoming years, Smith said.

This year, 1,300 teams competed nationally, with 81 named state winners.

There are also regional and national rounds of the competition. The team finds out how it fared in regionals this week. If it is named a regional winner, it receives a $5,000 grant for its school.

National winners get a Samsung Galaxy tablet for each member and an additional $15,000 grant to create STEM programming at their school. They also get to work with Verizon and an app inventor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop and distribute their app and a chance to present it in Washington, D.C., in June.

No one was more surprised at the team’s success than DeVos and Fuller. “I was just straight up amazed,” Fuller said.

Nonetheless, DeVos said he “feels very good” about the team’s chances of advancing — and both boys can’t wait to compete again next year.

“It was a good way to have fun and learn about technology and teamwork at the same time,” he said.

 

Erin Adler • 952-746-3283

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