When students are inspired, they can collaborate, project manage and potentially make the world a better place, especially when it comes to the world of apps. Verizon’s Innovative Learning app challenge, now in its fifth year, has produced a multitude of real-world apps from the ranks of middle schools to high schools.

This years’s competition puts two Indiana schools in line for national wins that will allow them to work with developers at MIT Media Lab to make their concept apps a reality.

Yorktown Middle School in Delaware County and Zionsville Community High School in Boone County are now vying for national “Fan Favorite,” a last step of the competition decided by public voting.

When students brainstorm for this competition, their apps are often borne out of their experiences. At Yorktown, a student team of sixth graders was inspired by a classmate’s severe food allergies. At Zionsville, it was the motivation by seniors to make any newcomer to a community — including a college freshman — quickly able to find any available resource through a single app.

Zionsville Community High School Principal Tim East said this year hundreds of seniors were put to the app challenge task at his school of more than 2,000 students.

Why do they participate?

“When you’re looking for opportunities for students, one of our goals is student empowerment. What’s important to you? This contest offers so much flexibility for the students to tap into their interests,” East said.

More notably, the competition relies on a key skill that prepares students for the workforce — collaboration. “This is an opportunity to solve real-world problems. And your product will be competing with other products in the marketplace.”

More than 1,800 entries were logged this year for the challenge. These Indiana schools have already been selected as “Best in State” for their respective entries — and it’s a second consecutive win for Zionsville.

Zionsville Teacher Bob Brennan’s economics class came up with NuTown, an app that pulls goods, services, places of interest, businesses and social ratings sites all into one app. Brennan noted that the app’s benefit was for anyone new to a town or a school community. It would combine everything from scheduling an Uber or Lyft ride to tapping into Yelp’s local restaurants rankings and reviews. Not only would all the local community content be available in one app via GPS, users would be able to provide reviews and ratings for any place visited.

“The thought process was — what would a kid need perhaps as they move to a new location to attend college or to quickly connect with other people?” Brennan said.

For the state win, each team wins a $5,000 cash prize for the school. Each member of the team receives a new tablet.

Competing at the next level

Now, both Yorktown and Zionsville teams are eligible to win one of eight “Best in Nation” Awards, selected by a panel of education and industry experts, with “Fan Favorite” determined by the public. Both offer $15,000 prizes and the chance to work with MIT experts.

As students move into the national phase, they are still prepping — just as adults would for a civic hackathon presenting to angel investors. The “Fan Favorite” and “Best in Nation” teams will present their completed apps at the annual Technology Student Association Conference in June.

As the job market shifts due to the rapid progression of technological advances, it’s clear we need to do more to spark greater student interest and proficiency in technology, and give students project based learning opportunities.

Since the start of the of the Verizon App Challenge, we’ve seen thousands of students use technology and work together to create app concepts that are addressing societal issues facing their schools and communities.

By providing students with technology, role models and exposure to STEM-related careers, we can help them to achieve a brighter future.

Vote for your favorites

To vote for an Indiana school as “Fan Favorite,” visit: https://appchallenge.tsaweb.org/vote. Winners will be announced February 15.