8th grade boys create award-winning app

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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Teachers have always struggled to make their lessons practical, getting students to see how they will apply to the real world. We've seen teachers finding ways to do this with technology. Kids like it and understand it, and now, they are creating it.

In the You Tube video you see a sheet of paper on a desk and someone writing the objective for a phone app.

“This is prime example of being green and sustaining the environment,” says a child's voice off-camera.

This is how a team of 8th grade boys at Aprende Middle School started their pitch to build a cell phone application that will drive people to help the environment.

“We were looking for something that was really going to help the world,” said Alex Agnick.

“It focuses on sustainability,” added Mitchell Laukonen. “It's called EcoKick.”

Mitchell and Alex are members of a team of six. Coding was new to most of them, but the real challenge was coming up with an idea people would use.

“The push back I gave them was, how do we get people to care?” said science teacher Eric Santos. “How do we get people to go beyond just checking it out to actually wanting to use it regularly?”

The boys focused on what they already knew about apps and social media.

“We looked at other social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, other gaming stuff,” said Laukonen. “We noticed they always wanted to be on top.”

“People always want to compete over their friends,” said Agnick. “They always want to seem the better person. I have more followers, the better score on this, people going crazy over that. And I'm like, why not turn that into good?”

So EcoKick will allow people to recycle or bike to work, earn points and then let their network know what they did.

“When it sparked in our heads,” said Agnick. “We thought, you know what? We might be able to win first.”

The team produced a video and that led to winning best in nation for the Verizon Wireless Innovative App Challenge. They won $20,000 and a chance to turn the idea into reality.

EcoKick may motivate people to help the earth, but these boys are learning skills that may change the trajectory of their lives.

“You heard some of them say they wanted to go into some type of technical career,” said Santos. “That's what we want to see at this age. Just have that spark, I can do this, I can be somebody in this field.”

The boys will finish their app by June and then fly to Dallas for a conference. They will present that app on the tablets they won through the contest.

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