Congress kicks off coding competition


Kids don’t have to go to the app store to find games, piano lessons and chemistry tutorials anymore — because they’re creating their own.

Starting July 18, high school students will be able to show off their STEM and coding skills through the Congressional App Challenge, a nationwide competition that could land winners a trip to the nation’s capital.

The contest was launched by the Congressional Internet Caucus, a bipartisan group of more than 100 members of the House and Senate, and is sponsored by the Internet Education Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes democracy through technology. It was first piloted in 2014, and Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.) will oversee the competition.

“We think its important to invest in students so they can learn coding and about the various STEM roles they can pursue in the future,” said Melissa Medina, congressional affairs director for the contest and founder and CEO of AppMyRep, an app-building website. “We really hope to inspire them.”

More than 1,700 students participated last year, submitting nearly 500 original apps. One student created a tool with location sensibility that allows users to view crime reports and tourist attractions within a certain radius of where they are. Another winning team developed an app that teaches math with a virtual tutor and sample problems, complete with step-by-step instructions and quizzes.

Contest officials said the possibilities are endless for what kids can create this year. They hope that every state participates so more students can get involved with coding. So far, 116 congressional districts from 38 states have signed up.

“One thing last year, which is telling, is that we had complete bipartisan support,” Medina said. “Participation was split 50-50 in terms of Democrats and Republicans, which shows that tech and promoting STEM education is a national issue.”

Tech experts have noticed that students who have access to computer science courses are more likely to have an interest in coding and pursue a career in STEM. Last year, for example, there was a significant number of kids from Arkansas who submitted original apps to the contest, officials said. It was also the first state to require all public and charter high schools to have computer science courses count towards graduation.

To participate in this year’s events, members of Congress must register their district to compete. Once the district is registered, teams of one to four students will begin developing their apps.

Kids will have until Nov. 2 to use their science, technology, engineering and math skills to code and develop an original app to potentially be featured in the Capitol building display for the next year. Students who are able to travel will also get to fly to Washington for a celebration next year, called the “House of Code.” There, the students will get to show off their apps to members of Congress.

Though the contest primarily targets high school students, this year, there is no minimum age.

“If a 10-year-old is able to build an app that is amazing, we want to be able to highlight their work,” Medina said.

There will be 1 million unfilled jobs in the tech industry by 2020, Medina said, referring to a recent study by ACT | The App Association, a company that represents apps and information technology firms. Medina and other tech experts say they think computer science should be part of the curriculum in all K-12 schools to encourage the pursuit of STEM careers.

“The ability to write software is going to be a key determinant in our country’s success,” said Jonathan Godfrey, vice president for public affairs at the association. “That skill should be available to every student in every school in our country.”

Medina said she hopes the contest will motivate educators and policymakers to give their students access to computer science and technology education.

“The Congressional App Challenge serves as a great opportunity for today’s Congress to connect with tomorrow’s coders,” Medina said. “This initiative can really inspire students to get involved in STEM education, and that’s important for our country.”

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