Want to accept the app challenge? Here’s what you need to know today!
Absolutely, Positively No Coding Required

What is the Verizon Innovative Learning app challenge?

The app challenge is a nationwide contest for middle- and high-school-aged students that challenges them to develop concepts for mobile apps that solve a problem in their community. It’s a unique, hands-on learning program that teaches collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and entrepreneurship, as well as STEM skills and coding. Its aim is to equip students with skills needed to succeed in the jobs of the future, delivering to students the promise of a brighter future.

What are the important dates?

Dates for the 2016–2017 app challenge are:

  • App Challenge opens August 1
  • Submission Deadline November 18
  • Best in State winners announced January 9
  • Best in Region winners announced January 17
  • Voting takes place January 9 through February 14
  • Best in Nation, Fan Favorite announced February 15

Who can enter?

This year, non-profit out-of-school groups can enter along with schools.

Youth in grades 6 through 12, in teams of 5 to 7 members plus an adult advisor can enter.  You can register with your school (public, private or parochial) or any non-profit group or club that is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  You must be located in the U.S. (50 states plus the District of Columbia).  Non-profit team advisers need to be employees of the affiliated non-profit.  The details about who can participate are located here.

How do I sign up?

First, teams need an adult adviser. This is someone at least 18 years old, who will be responsible for leading the team through the registration process and will commit to mentoring the team throughout the challenge.  Team advisers need to complete the registration, authorization and release forms here and then your team is ready to accept the app challenge. Advisers can register as many teams of 5 -7 members as they want.

How can we enter the app challenge?

It’s simple to enter:

  1. Gather your team
  2. Read the rules
  3. Register
  4. Identify a problem you want to solve
  5. Create your entry

Do teams need to know how to build a mobile app to enter the contest?

No. Teams do not have to build an app to enter the challenge. The app challenge is about the concept only. The concept submission will be evaluated on how well it is researched and presented to the panel of judges. Teams that win at the national level will learn coding from MIT experts who will travel to your location to give in-person training, as well as additional virtual training to get your app ready to launch in the Play store.

What will the team be doing?

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Gather your team
  • Look around for problems in your school or community and come up with a few ideas on what you want your app to tackle
  • Research what’s available in the marketplace
  • Decide as a group on how your team can improve on what exists or create an entirely new solution
  • Nail down your solution and its features
  • Assign tasks to the team members
  • Create your concept submission

What are the prizes?

Everyone is a winner! Just by entering, young people will gain:

  • Experience working on a real world STEM project
  • Teamwork and collaboration skills by working in teams of '5-7' members
  • Critical thinking, creative problem solving, and entrepreneurship skills
  • Character development including empathy and grit
  • Skills addressed by key standards including Common Core

Plus –

  • Best in State winning teams will receive a $5,000 grant for their school or non-profit sponsored program and mobile tablets for every team member, and the opportunity to compete for the title of Best in Region and Best in Nation. In addition, all Best in State winners will be eligible to be named the app challenge Favorite Award winner.  The team that receives the most votes via a crowd voting mechanism on the app challenge website will be selected as the app challenge Favoirite Award winner and will receive all the benefits of the Best in Nation winners.
  • Best in Nation teams will receive an additional $15,000 grant for their school or out-of-school program, and in-person coding training from MIT experts, plus an all-expenses-paid trip for each team member and a parent/guardian next summer.

Read the details about the awards here.

How does the app challenge build skills for jobs of the future?

There is broad consensus that for students to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow, they will need skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem solving and more. The Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge provides a hands-on project that:

Builds teamwork: Teams of 5-7 students work together to identify a problem, assign roles and responsibilities within the team and hold each other accountable for their assignments. They present their solution as a team.

Teaches critical thinking: Students use research and analysis skills, as well as STEM disciplines in identifying problems and devising their solutions.

Builds character: By searching for problems that need solutions, students exercise empathy.

What is a concept submission?

An app concept submission includes a 3-minute video and essay responses.

  1. Video: Make a 3-minute video and upload it to YouTube or Vimeo. Show the judges your personality and uniqueness. Use the hashtag #VZAppChallenge.
  2. Essay: Answer each of four essay questions. Be sure to show how the problem you picked is uniquely meaningful to your team and how your solution is innovative.

What makes a winning concept?

The judges are looking for:

  • Original ideas
  • Comprehensive research
  • Clear explanations
  • Creative presentations

Your idea should address a problem or need that has affected your team personally, or that your team is in a unique position to solve.

For example, a 2014 Best in Nation winning team developed the Hello Navi app to help their blind classmate navigate around the school. A 2015 Best in Nation winning team developed Safe & Sound to help their friends and family members who struggle with stress, anxiety and depression.  Another team developed a concept called Remember Me, inspired by a team member’s aunt who suffers from Alzheimer’s, which would help memory impaired people recognize their loved ones. 

These teams’ concept submissions were successful because they understood their problem deeply through first-hand experience. This intimate knowledge of the problem also helped them do a better job with research and explain their solutions more clearly and completely.  

Your essay responses should be thorough, well written and grammatically correct. For the video, use the resources provided to develop a visual presentation that effectively presents your app concept idea.

Make sure your concept provides an innovative approach. Stay away from app concepts that already exist, or that have already been recognized as app challenge winners such as:

  • Homework/study schedulers
  • Calorie counters/exercise logs
  • Finding volunteer opportunities
  • Weather trackers
  • Navigation/traffic apps

Read and carefully consider the specific standards the judges will use here.

How are winners chosen?

A panel of judges, including educators and industry experts, was assembled by the Technology Student Association.   Then all the complete submissions were evaluated according to the judging standards to identify one winner from grades six through eight and another winner from grades nine through 12 from each state and the District of Columbia.  These up to 102 teams’ submissions are then narrowed to three in each grade range for each of four regions: Northeast, Midwest, South and West. These 24 Best in Region teams present their concepts live via webinar to the panel of judges.  The judges then select one team in each grade range (6-8 and 9-12) from each region as Best in Nation winners. In addition, all Best in State winners will be eligible to be named the app challenge Favorite Award winner.  The team that receives the most votes via a crowd voting mechanism on the app challenge website will be selected as the app challenge Favorite Award Winner and will receive all the benefits of the Best in Nation winners.

Can we take the app challenge again if our school entered in the past? What if we won in the past?

Yes, absolutely! If your school entered teams in the past, we encourage you to do it again! If your team won Best in State or Best in Region, by all means, try again this year for Best in Nation. If your team won Best in Nation, though, you’re not eligible to win again. But we hope you’ll use your expertise to mentor another group in your school or community.

What happens after the winners are chosen?

There’s a lot that happens after the winners are chosen. All the Best in State teams will receive a $5,000 grant for their schools or out-of-school programs, plus tablets for each team member. They’ll also go on to compete for a place among the twenty-four Best in Region winners and eight Best in Nation teams, plus one Fan Favorite award winner to be chosen through crowd voting.

After the Best in Nation teams are announced, coding experts from MIT will visit the winners’ schools or club locations to train them to use MIT App Inventor to build their apps.  The teams will work in person and virtually with MIT experts to get their apps working by June 1. Then the Best in Nation winning teams will travel (all expenses paid for each team member and one parent/guardian) to the 2017 National Technology Student Association Conference in Orlando, Florida, to demo their apps in person.

And, some great and surprising things can happen, too. Like these:

  • A winning team from 2013, the Quest Math team from the Bronx Academy of Promise, was featured in a Verizon commercial.
  • A winning team from 2014 was featured in a Verizon online campaign and documentary.
  • Two winning teams, Hello Navi and Safe & Sound, demonstrated their apps at the White House Science Fair – and got to meet Bill Nye the Science Guy!
  • Visit the Inspiration section of the website to read about these stories and more.

What happens to the apps when they are live? Who will own them? Will they be free for download or will there be a fee? If a fee is charged for downloading the apps, who will keep the profit?

The apps are owned by the students who created them.  Verizon does not own the intellectual property of the apps. The apps can be made available for free or students can charge a fee for their app, retaining the profit themselves.  Or, like team Hello Navi, they can sell their app to an investor.

Will the tablets received as prizes have free service from Verizon?

No. The tablets are equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities and are capable of running on Verizon Wireless 4G LTE.

What are the contest rules?

Read the rules here.