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February 14, 2014

Smith Middle School technology students win ‘Best in State’ title

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Gabrielle Kuholski
Staff Writer

Top row from left, Colonel Smith Middle School eighth grade students Thomas Hakes, 13; Joshua Merrick, 13; Joel Pagan, 14; and bottom row, Amber Cassady, 14 and Kelly Riley, 14 win the Verizon Innovative App Challenge “Best in State” middle school title. The students had to design a smartphone application concept that encompassed Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills and solved a problem within the school or community.

Colonel Smith Middle School put its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM curriculum to the test to enter Verizon’s second annual Innovative App Challenge.

While 14 eighth graders from the school participated in the competition, a team of five students from Suzanne Jennings’ Technical Foundations course earned the “Best in State” middle school title for their entry.

Verizon’s contest objective had competitors come up with an original smartphone application, or app concept, that incorporated STEM and addressed a need or problem in their school or community. High school and middle school students were required to work in teams of five to create one app, and receive support from a faculty advisor.

The middle school’s winning app, “Grade Alert,” introduced the concept of students checking grades and assignments with ease.

“It generates a notification when a student’s grade drops below a desired preference,” Jennings explained, adding that students can set their own grade preference.

Not only does the app work as a notification system, it informs students of missing assignments and what the grade will be once the assignments are completed. The team also created Grade Alert to assist absent students with a list of work they missed while gone.

Participants had a small window of time to complete their app concepts — two weeks. Eager to step up to the challenge, the teams worked on app ideas during lunch and after school until their final entry was completed.

“The students were excited about the prospect of entering the contest and gave up free time to work on their submissions,” according to Phyllis Gerben, eighth grade language arts teacher.

While each team completed the project, the school decided to send only three to the Verizon Innovative App Challenge.

“From the initial submission of app ideas, the core teachers selected the three ideas we felt had the best chance of winning, based on idea and level of detail of the initial submission,” Gerben continued.

Aside from providing an opportunity for learning and teamwork, Jennings expressed the challenge provided an extra benefit to the winning students — a boost of confidence.

The “Best in State” team consisted of: Thomas Hakes, 13; Joshua Merrick, 13; Joel Pagan, 14; Amber Cassady, 14; and Kelly Riley, 14.

“I didn’t think we had it in us [to win], but I guess we did,” said Cassady.

Although news of the honor was received with a reaction of shock and surprise by the students, Jennings admitted the team already had winning potential.

“They’re kids I have known all along that could do something like this, but they didn’t know they had it in them. For them to accomplish this, they finally got to see what I’ve seen in them,” Jennings stated.

Each Best in State team winner will be awarded: “Best in State” certificates; access to a self-guided app development course, an invitation to participate in a virtual Verizon Foundation STEM event, and links on the Verizon Foundation websites: verizonfoundation.org and/or Thinkfinity.org. Each Best in State team’s school shall receive a “Best in State” plaque.




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