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June 5, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Need help in an emergency? Students have an app for that


Screen shot of student-designed app called My Homework

Need help in an emergency? Want an easy way to keep track of homework assignments or turn a cell phone into a hearing aid?

Thanks to a students from Timbercrest Junior High in Woodinville, Tesla STEM High in Redmond, and Lakeside Middle in Seattle, there are — or soon may be — mobile or computer applications to help.

Those teams are among 11 from Western Washington that won prizes Wednesday in the state’s first Youth Apps Challenge.

The hearing enhancement app is already available for sale at the Apple App store, said Karen Manuel of the Technology Alliance, the contest’s organizer. Seattle Public Schools intends to use another of the award-winners, she said, an app for student government elections, designed by students at Garfield High.

The emergency app, developed by ninth-graders at Timbercrest Junior High, isn’t available yet, but students are working toward that, said their teacher, Josh Caldwell. How it works: When you open their app on your cell phone, a big red button appears. If you push it, it sends a text “help” message with your coordinates to a predetermined set of phone numbers.

The students came up with the idea right after the mudslide in Oso, Caldwell said, thinking it could have helped rescuers. They’re now working to see if they can add another feature that automatically sends out an emergency message if someone doesn’t move in a certain number of hours.

In all, about 75 teams of up to five students entered the competition. They could present an idea, a design or a fully functional mobile or web-based application with source code. They also had to research whether their idea already existed, and who might use it.

The Technology Alliance, with funding from a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce, offered training for interested teachers and a 42-hour curriculum they could use to take students from idea to fully functional app, although some didn’t get that far. Of the Western Washington award winners, about half submitted a functional app.

Caldwell said he found out about the contest late, so his students had only about three weeks to come up an idea, and design it.

The winners included 12 teams in Eastern Washington as well as the 11 on this side of the state.

The Technology Alliance is already starting to plan for next year, and has some upcoming training for interested teachers in June. Contact Karen Manuel at

The other Western Washington winners:

  • A racing game with a realistic physics engine (Garfield High)
  • First-person shooter game (Garfield High)
  • An app designed to help people learn to code (Timbercrest Junior High)
  • An app designed to make it easy to donate to charity (Garfield High)
  • Chess notation app (River HomeLink, a largely online school in Battle Ground, Clark County)
  • An app to help senior citizens use smart phones (River HomeLink)
  • An app for scoring robotics competitions (Garfield and NOVA high schools in Seattle)

Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: STEM, Technology Alliance, Youth Apps Challenge


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