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CONVOY — When it comes to teaching in the classroom, Crestview Middle School teachers Hannah Phlipot and Ben Hotmire believe the sky’s the limit.

The digital sky, that is.

Both Phlipot and Hotmire teach eighth grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). A nine-week elective, the project-oriented STEM class allows students to study topics beyond the state curriculum. Students have studied topics like simple machines, the effects of virus development upon the brain and alternative fuels. Each project emphasizes collaboration and problem solving. “This is such a neat environment for us as teachers and for our students,” teacher Ben Hotmire says. “In my 15 years of teaching, I’ve seen many educational ideas come across my desk, but the concept of STEM grants students the freedom to learn and explore in truly meaningful ways.”

When Hannah Phlipot discovered the MIT App Inventor, she knew that her STEM students would benefit from the challenge. “We wanted them to create their own apps,” Phlipot says. “They would need to survey a large group of students and teachers from the entire district and analyze that data in order to decide what type of apps to create. We realized that we were merging science with marketing, and that type of real-world knowledge was really exciting.” “We are educators, not marketers,” Hotmire says. “We knew we needed to bring in some outside expertise, and so we reached out to Andrew Booth, marketing analyst at MedPro, a large medical malpractice insurance company in Fort Wayne, Indiana.”

Hotmire and Phlipot arranged for Booth to Skype into the classroom. His experience at MedPro includes website development and strategic marketing analysis. For twenty minutes, Andrew spoke to Crestview STEM students, giving them eight practical steps on user analysis and app development. “Andrew’s from Wales, so the kids were immediately enamored by his accent,” Hotmire says. “He’s a personal friend of mine, and I knew his knowledge would be direct and relevant for our students. They interacted with him through Skype as if he were standing in our classroom. The students were incredibly engaged throughout the conversation, and they asked pertinent questions designed to help them navigate through the app development process.”

“We’re always looking for ways to collaborate with the outside community,” Phlipot says. “This is how we ensure that learning is rooted in real-life problem solving methods. It’s exciting as a teacher because the students are passionate about learning, and you know that your efforts are a true investment into their futures.”

Students will be spending the next two weeks navigating through the app development process. Phlipot and Hotmire hope that student-developed apps can ultimately become available to all Android users within the Crestview district.