Students from across the U.S. met with congressional leaders and the Obama administration to showcase their STEM apps

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Students present their apps and games in Washington, D.C. Credit: The author

A college student created an an interactive app that teaches human effects on the environment…Does this sound like American innovation is in decline?

Many reports suggest that the U.S. needs to place a greater emphasis on STEM education to remain competitive globally, and countless other commentary notes the lack of diversity in the field.

Given this enormous challenge, where should we begin? The answer seems to lie in awareness and public support.

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) may have found an innovative solution through the creation of the Leaders on the Fast Track (LOFT) Video Game Innovation Fellow, a prestigious award to encourage American minorities to pursue STEM fields.

On Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C., I had the privilege to meet with 20 student fellows, ages 15-25, selected for their video game and app prototypes that address social issues in their community. These future ed-tech leaders did a fantastic job of not only promoting STEM fields, but also dissuading the naysayers that the United States lacks innovation in education and technology. The fellows presented their projects to the Obama administration and will receive an innovation grant to help further develop their game or app.

Here are seven of the apps that really stood out:

The Abstraction of War

Marc Robert Wong, a 16-year-old fellow from San Francisco, developed a thoughtful game called The Abstraction of War, to challenge players about how technology often disconnects users from the human consequences of their actions. Wong aims to highlight how people often become “detached” to drone strikes because they are operated by a person sitting behind a computer screen. “This type of warfare can be related to cyberbullying,” he said, as many people using a computer do not always realize the emotional suffering caused to the other person on the screen.

(Next page: More youth STEM innovation)

ECHO

Ruben Estrada, a 16-year-old fellow from Los Angeles, presented his idea of an app called ECHO to connect teachers with their students who have low GPAs or are struggling with their classes. “I was inspired to create an app to stop procrastination, because a lot of students I know do not turn in work on time and drop out of school,” said Estrada. The app allows teachers to send classwork reminders to students, and teachers will be notified once students have seen or opened the file. The completed app will be available to Android and iOS users in any mobile device.

One Jump

Kevin Soto, a 16-year-old fellow from Houston, has been working on an app since June called One Jump that will provide students with a platform to learn more about college. “I wanted to create a new space to help low-income students gain valuable information about higher education,” Soto explained. Partnering with Teach For American and having Mike Feinberg, the co-founder of the KIPP schools, on the board of advisors, Soto hopes to ease the transition to college for hundreds of students including those on Native American reservations. The platform will be used on the iPhone and Android phones, as well as online for people without access to phones.

Project Our World

“I’ve always been interested in health and the environment,” said Esteben Zaldivar, a 21-year-old University of Texas at Austin student. Project Our World is an interactive app suitable for all ages that teaches human effects on the environment. Watch this demo tutorial here.

 

STEMBox

Nicolas Badila, a 15-year-old fellow from Georgia, is helping young girls learn about STEM fields. STEMBox is a virtual game where young girls can select STEM professions such as a chemist and mix chemicals in a lab, an engineer and build robots, and an epidemiologist and cure patients. “My two sisters inspired me to create this app,” said Badila. “I want to get girls interested in STEM at an early age.” The app is available in Google Play and in the Amazon App Store.

Watch the promotional video here.

 

Trash Attack

Selina Wang, a 16-year-old fellow from Bayside, N.Y., created Trash Attack, an app about recycling. This 2-D game tests reflexes and is similar to Tetrisas players defend against incoming trash by sorting them into the correct bins as they fall. The goal is to collect as much trash in the correct bins as possible, and as the game progresses, the trash falls increasingly faster. “Recycling is a big problem. Why not come up with a game to introduce people to the benefits of recycling?” Wang said.

MathRacer

Rabimba Karanjai, a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Texas at Dallas, shared an interesting game called MathRacer to encourage children to enjoy basic math such as multiplication and division. The split-screen game features a race car at the top racing other cars. The bottom of the screen displays a series of math questions that the user must answer quickly in order for the race car to accelerate. This teaches children to enjoy math as users are awarded with a faster race car based on how quickly and accurately they answer the questions. “I tested my idea by showing this game to kids, and they loved it,” said Karanjai.

The game is available in Firefox Marketplace.

Michael Sharnoff is Associate Online Editor of eCampus News. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_eSM.


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