AZ Technology and Innovation: High School App Competition

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Nearly 250 Arizona high school students recently participated in an app competition in Gilbert. The App Resource and Knowledge App League is in its second year, with students from all skill levels learning the process of developing a mobile application. The event is the official launch of SPARK App League, a three-month contest challenging students to build a mobile application for Gilbert Fire and Rescue. Ashish Amresh, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, will talk about the app competition.

Ted Simons: Our focus on Arizona technology and innovation deals with a competition to sharpen the app-creating skills of state high school students. The three-month competition challenges students to build a mobile application for Gilbert fire and rescue. Ashish Amresh, an assistant professor at ASU, is here to talk about the event. Good to have you here.

Ashish Amresh: Good to be here, yeah.

Ted Simons: This is the spark app league. Give me a definition of what this is.

Ashish Amresh: Spark stands for Schools Participate in App Creation Resource and Knowledge. So, it's -- it came about as a way how we could tie ASU, as well as the town of Gilbert and our high schools today, and Sparky, which is our mascot, kind of came to mind. We said we have to make something that stands out. And so we said we are going to call this spark app league and see if all of the high school students in the valley, and actually even sort of outside of Phoenix, come in and participate and try to create a meaningful apps for our communities.

Ted Simons: Talk about that competition. We're talking about a team of kids. Do they come from a school? Do they pick their own teammates? How does this work?

Ashish Amresh: They all have to belong to the same school. A mentor who could be their teacher. Could be anyone, math teacher, technology teacher, mentor from outside of the school as well. It is open. And there are some mentors who could be from industry. We have a list of people who participate with us. They could be faculty from ASU. The team of students come from a particular high school and they have to design an app in the period that they are participating in this competition.

Ted Simons: And the app has to be specific to Gilbert fire and rescue.

Ashish Amresh: This year, yes.

Ted Simons: This year.

Ashish Amresh: We launched it last year. And we had an about 70 students participate in it and the team was parks and recreation. And, so, we got some amazing apps out of that. And we said how could we push that envelope further this year? We said, okay, one of the things we never see is fire safety and, you know, if you look at the app stores you don't find much information about how to be safe. This just came about as a natural progression seeing how could we involve the town of Gilbert can leverage today and what the students can create that can help our communities and so the team of fire safety came about for this year.

Ted Simons: And it sounds to me like the prizes are for best overall app, correct? And best code implementation, best design and usability, and there is a lot of bests in there. A lot of chance to win a prize.

Ashish Amresh: This year for the first time, we have added an all girls competition. A team that is all women has a chance to win a prize on their own.

Ted Simons: And they can also win some of the other prizes, too.

Ashish Amresh: They can also win some of the other prizes.

Ted Simons: The winners, a $200 Visa card.

Ashish Amresh: There is varying prizes. But prizes are in the hundreds and two hundreds, depending on what prize they win. And some prizes are also for scholarships when they come to college.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned teachers and mentors and sponsors and such. How much are they allowed to get involved?

Ashish Amresh: I mean, as much as they want to. We saw last year that the mentor for -- were a huge, you know, participant in the student teams, development through the different stages of the competition. A lot of times, students are, you know, have the habit of going off tangent, as we all know.

Ted Simons: Sure.

Ashish Amresh: The mentors play an amazing role in keeping the focus to what is achievable, what's doable, what can be something that has a shot of winning. They come up with that expertise and knowledge to the app building process.

Ted Simons: But you don't want them doing the process themselves.

Ashish Amresh: No, no, they're not contributing in any way to the design or the implementation. They are there as facilitators who make sure that their teams are making the milestones and hitting the goals.

Ted Simons: Do the kids learn as they go in something like this? Or is this a competition to display what you either already know or -- you know what I'm saying? You could go in there knowing nothing, and you could put together a pretty nice app. It may not be the best app. But the level of learning curve is the biggest. Is that looked at all?

Ashish Amresh: Yeah, I mean, so that's why we have many prizes. So, the code implementation, the technical depth is going to be looked at with a microscope, right? But the design, the design, it doesn't have to be that technically complete. But the idea is on the creative -- the form factor, the messaging that they're trying to deliver through that is going to be looked at much, you know, at a much heavier detail. So, if you feel like you're just getting into technology, it should not be something to be disheartened by because there are all of these different avenues where you can shine in this competition. And of course, the best overall app tries to do all of these things really well. In general, though, that schools today are doing great compared to what they were 10 years ago. I think there has been a tremendous effort in the Arizona schooling system to try to get technology into schools. We need avenues like these to take it to the next level, showcase their schools at a competitive arena like none other.

Ted Simons: And I guess educators, parents, kids, good reaction from all involved?

Ashish Amresh: Oh, excellent. We started at 70 and we have gone over 250 in a year. So, there has been tremendous response. Response is one thing we're not worried about.

Ted Simons: Very good. It sounds like it should be interesting. In three months we will find out who the winning app is.

Ashish Amresh: Yes, May 1th.

Ted Simons: Good stuff. Good luck. Thank you for being here.

Ashish Amresh: Thank you.

Ashish Amresh:Assistant Professor, Arizona State University;

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