Team from Open Window School recognized nationally for hiking app

2013 App Challenge from Open Window School on Vimeo.

A team of five seventh graders at the Open Window School in Bellevue has been named one of the top middle school mobile phone app developers in the nation. Their efforts earned the independent school for gifted children a $20,000 technology grant.

HikeAbout is an app detailing trails, flora and fauna in the Eastside and the Snoqualmie area. It was one of eight entries into the Verizon Innovative App Challenge to be recognized at the Technology Student Association conference in Washington, D.C., held the weekend of June 27.

The team’s victory began with a group project in Adrienne Gifford’s technology class. Gifford tasked her students with planning and prototyping an app that could solve a problem in the local community.

The HikeAbout team began to consider the environment and the Eastside’s great outdoors.

“We kind of bounced ideas off each other,” student Alex Hobbs said. “I had the idea of including information about wildlife for hunters … and as we talked about it more as a group, that branched off into creating new ideas.”

The discussion turned to hiking safety and the group’s final paper prototype was an app that would allow hikers to know the areas they traveled and send out an emergency signal in case of danger.

Gifford encouraged her class to consider entering their projects into the Innovative App contest. The HikeAbout team took her up on the challenge, submitting an essay and a three-minute video displaying proof of concept.

“Once we started brainstorming our app, the contest became a lot more important to us, even before we won,” Emerson-Jane Jones said. “We knew if we won, we would have a chance to build out our ideas.”

Still, Jones was surprised to find out they won the state competition, let alone the regionals and nationals, she said.

Gifford surprised the team with the news of the state victory — save for one student who had been obsessively checking the contest results online — in their humanities class.

“They were pretty excited,” Gifford said.

Hobbs said, when she heard the news, she thought it was the beginning of the team’s chance to win it all. News of their regional victory came and went and, when national results were poised to be announced by video chat, the team huddled around a computer monitor in rapt attention. They sat through one, two, three, four names, almost losing hope after the fifth, sixth and seventh until they heard it: HikeAbout was announced at the end of the list.

“We jumped up and we started screaming ‘We won, we won,’” Hobbs said. “Our school had known we had actually won and they made a banner for us. (The news) got around really quickly with other students. They all came in after the announcement, screaming and congratulating us. It felt like we were on top of the world.”

In addition to the technology grant and tablet computers for each teammate, HikeAbout was given the opportunity to work with assistant professor Yu-Chang Hsu of Boise State University to turn their prototype into a working product. Hsu showed the children how to use the MIT App Inventor to program their features.

Hobbs and Jones said their experience had encouraged them to think about a career in technology.

“I enjoyed coming up with the ideas for apps,” Hobbs said. “I think that’s what I really enjoyed in the project.”

“Totally,” Jones said. “My dad works in technology, so I always knew about it, but actually coming up with an idea and then making it happen was an awesome experience.”

HikeAbout is available for Android in the Google Play store.


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