Technovation contest encourages collaboration, self-confidence building for teams of young women

Team Her-ricans includes, in front, from left, Sydney Ellis, Peyton Ellis and Lillian Hanson, as well as, in back, Ellie Glende and Josie Koenigs. They are part of the 2018 Technovation teams competing at Appapalooza. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS

The Strong-her Team intently works on developing an application for an all-girl STEM contest. In front, from left, are Katie Cocker, Chloe Berg and Jacquelyn Bernard. In back are Lelani Clifford and Elizabeth Schieffelbein. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Chatfield News

The Futurecast this month and next is for landlocked “Strong-her Her-ricanes.”

Look out: These girls are a force of nature.

“The teams are made up with girls from fifth to eighth grade, and this year, we have Team Strong-her and Team Her-ricanes,” explained Chatfield school tech coordinator Kristy Cook, advisor of the Chatfield Public Schools’ (CPS) Technovation Team.

These girl powerhouses are developing tech applications for an all-girl science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competition called Appapalooza, during which they will present their apps to judges and a gathering of STEM experts.

Team Strong-her offers the lightning brilliance of Elizabeth Schieffelbein, Lelani Clifford, Jacquelyn Bernard, Chloe Berg and Katie Cocker, and Team Her-ricanes includes the thundering talents of Ellie Glende, Payton Ellis, Sydney Ellis, Lillian Hanson and Josie Koenigs.

The young ladies were chosen by Cook and their teachers to be part of the Technovation teams — they couldn’t simply sign up and be on the teams.

“The students fill out an application to be part of Technovation. I then talk with their teachers to help determine the best students for which team. I try to take as many kids as possible,” Cook explained. “We have mentors from Rochester that come and help us — Patty Clancy and Emily Benner — and I take as many teams as mentors. If we have two mentors, I can have two teams, and each team can have up to five students.”

The teams were formed and began meeting this past December, and they have spent the past five months collaborating to produce their apps in order to have them ready for an April 25 deadline.

“They have to turn in all of their deliverables by April 25, and they will compete on May 12 at Appapalooza, which is at the Minneapolis Convention Center,” she added.

Cook highlighted the purpose of the app development process. “Each of their apps have to be geared toward solving a problem in our community. Team Her-ricanes is developing an app called ‘Steer Clear,’ and the purpose of their app is to decrease drunk driving. Team Strong-her is developing an app called ‘Screen Stopper.’ The purpose of their app is to encourage kids to get off of their devices — phones, iPads, et cetera,” she explained. “These girls have so many brilliant ideas that they then have to figure out how they can code into their app. Someone might come up with an amazing idea, but then they all have to brainstorm how they could make that idea happen in MIT App Inventor.”

Cook continued, “Technovation is not just about building an app. Yes, that is a big portion of it, but there is so much more involved in the process. Students spend a few weeks in an ideation stage. They have to brainstorm, do research, make prototypes, develop flow charts and determine their purpose all before they can even start to code. They also have to get creative in order to develop a pitch video, logo, color schemes, et cetera. Finally, they have to have public speaking skills. They have to present to an audience and answer questions from the judges. Although coding is a big part of the program, this is a small fraction of the skills they are gaining from Technovation.”

Cook explained that she loves the Technovation contest because it encourages collaboration among the girls.

“They really have to work as a team in order to accomplish all of the tasks,” she added. “The students do a good job of dividing and conquering, but still always checking in with the group to make sure they are on the right track. They really have to respect and trust each other throughout the process.”

Mentors such as Clancy and Benner not only guide the students — they are role models as well. Cook pointed out, “Technovation is not only a great way to expose girls to coding and app building, but it also connects them with amazing mentors that are in technology, engineering, science and math fields. I think it is very important for these girls to have relationships with successful women in the STEM fields. I also love that Technovation not only teaches girls how to code, but they also have to produce pitch videos, write app descriptions, create a presentation, present their presentation to a large audience, and much more. The skills they are gaining reach far past learning how to code.”

Cook observed that the skills gained through app development and pitching an app are unique to Technovation. “A lot of the things I ask of the girls in Technovation are things they are not doing in their classrooms. These girls are given a lot of freedom, and I am there just to make sure they are on the right track. It is hard for them at first because someone isn’t telling them exactly what they have to do, but once they get over that hurdle, you see them excel in ways you would never see in a regular school day. These girls are amazing coders, brilliant problem solvers, dedicated team members, innovative thinkers, great public speakers and more.”

The convergence of those qualities on one front has proven fruitful, according to the advisor.

“I am very proud of the work these girls have accomplished and the dedication they have had to Technovation. Not too many fifth through eighth graders would want to spend a few extra hours a week at school working on challenging tasks. I am also very proud of their ability to overcome obstacles. Coding isn’t always easy, and sometimes what you think would be a great addition to your app seems impossible to code. They have done a wonderful job problem solving in order to make some extraordinary apps…their ability to problem solve always surprises me,” Cook shared. “Often, when they are coding, they get errors and have to figure out how to fix their code. A lot of students would automatically give up, but these girls work together in order to determine the cause of the error. It is really impressive.”

Cook enjoys advising Technovation for so very many reasons.

She remarked, “For me, it is fun to see these girls really come together as a team to solve a problem. I enjoy listening to them as they brainstorm ideas and as they work through the prototyping stage because this is really when they have in-depth conversations on how they could solve a problem by building their app. I personally enjoy helping them make their pitch videos. This is when their creative side comes out! Finally, Appapalooza is an amazing event. The girls get to listen to motivational speeches from women who work in the STEM field. They also have some big sponsors for Appapalooza that provide the girls with fun gifts, t-shirts, a photo booth, food and so much more. It really shows the girls that they are supported and encouraged to continue on in STEM fields. You really walk away from Appapalooza feeling empowered!”

She elaborated, “I truly enjoy advising these girls. I taught sixth grade in Chatfield for nine years and always enjoyed building relationships with students. My current role in the district doesn’t allow me to build the same relationships, but Technovation has been a great way for me to get back working with students. I absolutely love seeing these girls get excited to work on difficult tasks. I am extremely proud of everything they have accomplished this far. They’re really excited about their apps this year. They would love to get them to the point that we could list them on the Google Play store, as they truly believe they could help our community.”

Cook credits the girls’ parents with making it possible for their daughters to participate — for inspiring in them a tornado of self-confidence and a flood of curiosity.

“We couldn’t do Technovation without the parents,” she said. “These parents make sure the girls can attend practice, pick them up after practice, and also encourage them along the way. These girls are amazing young women, and that is a direct tribute to their parents who have not only raised polite, responsible girls, but also encouraged them to explore things like Technovation.”

She concluded, “I am so proud of everything these girls have accomplished. They have spent countless hours outside of school working together. No matter how they do at Appapalooza, they have a lot to be proud of, as they have truly created an amazing product.”