Talk about first impressions. In her initial year at Capital Day School in Frankfort, science teacher Audrey Bebensee has overseen a class project that has netted the school $20,000.
A team of five eighth-graders learned Feb. 15 that their idea won the Verizon App Challenge, which is part of Verizon Innovative Learning. The nationwide contest challenged middle and high school students to develop concepts for mobile apps that solve a problem in their community.
In addition to the $20,000 grant, the students will each receive a Verizon tablet and a free trip in June to Orlando for the National Technology Student Association Conference, where the students will present their app idea they called “Waste Free America.”
The app would enable grocery stores and restaurants to alert homeless shelters and others in need to obtain available food.
As the students work on building the app, they also will receive in-person and virtual support from the App Inventor Group from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
When the school found out about the National award, Bebensee cried as she watched the faces of her students.
“They just can’t believe their idea is getting so much recognition,” she said. “They’re so excited. They’re ecstatic.”
Bebensee had heard of the contest previously and challenged her students in September to participate.
“I noticed the students were frustrated because people weren’t taking their ideas on how to make the world a better place seriously,” Bebensee said.
The class divided into two, five-member teams. One group focused on hospitalized children, the other on the issue of homelessness.
Those students took it upon themselves to visit the women’s shelter in Frankfort and speak with the director about the app.
“They called the center and arranged the visit so they could ask if the app would be relevant and realistic,” Bebensee said.
The director assured them that their idea was useful and even offered helpful tweaks.
“That really hit home for them and made it real, to see the people the app would be affecting,” Bebensee said.
It took weeks of talking about ideas to finalize a concept. The students wrote essays and created a video component to explain how the app would work, what it would look like and what it would accomplish.
Bringing the app to fruition will now be a class project for the students. Bebensee joked that she needs to rewrite new lesson plans to include app-creation.
“They now know they can do anything,” she said of her students. “They are all really excited to do it. They’re eager to take on the challenge.”