An app-etite for learning

Year 9 students showcase entrepreneurial and digital skills in annual #UnitedApp2016 competition

In its second year, the #UnitedApp2016 competition saw Year 9 students from around the country develop their business skills, critical thinking and digital development in a contest to design the best concept for an educational application.

This year, 1,500 students competed for the chance to create an educational app designed to address one of their learning needs, which would then be transformed into an actual real application on the app store for future students to download and use.

“Who better to understand student education needs than the students themselves?” Victoria Russell-Robbins, enrichments lead at United Learning, asked. “We hoped with this competition to tap into the unique perspectives of today digitally native students, and engage them in the learning process.”

The competition 

Kicking off in October, 2015, the competition began with a school roadshow tour by 7billionideas – a company who help individuals, businesses and students realise the full potential in their ideas. Over the course of just 21 days, the 7 billionideas team visited 38 United Learning schools around the country to present the competition, and teach students about how to brainstorm for ideas, how to find their true voice, and self-confidence and business skills. 

“We used the roadshow as an opportunity to get students really engaged with the competition concept, and give them a sense of empowerment so they were able to take their ideas, and translate them into something that could be real,” explained David Harkin, group CEO of 7billionideas. 

This roadshow very successfully inspired student teams to take action. In total, 444 teams, which represented 1,500 Year 9 students from around the UK submitted initial ideas, and the 50 best entries made it through to the competition’s video round. These totals essentially doubled the interest of the competition’s inaugural year, which achieved 181 team entries from 700 students.

During the video round, 10 final teams were selected. At this stage, judges looked for teams who presented a clear idea and showed a passion for their app design. They also looked for uniqueness of the ideas and teamwork visible in their video entries. 

In the months that followed, the ten finalists were mentored by school and industry professionals from United Learning and 7billionideas, competition sponsors IDNS, Casio Projectors, and Clevertouch, and IBM, who hosted the final event. 

The finale event 

The ten final teams represented the best and brightest of the countries students, with all regions being represented for real diversity of ideas in the presentation room. The day began with an icebreaking presentation from Harkin, who imparted the teams with final advice before the presentations began. 

They kept student spirits high by breaking down into a team-building ‘Marshmallow Challenge’ – where students were challenged to build the tallest possible tower with string, spaghetti, tape, and one marshmallow. This was to help encourage teamwork and create a relaxed atmosphere ahead of the presentations.

We were blown away by the quality of the ideas, and the solutions which #UnitedApp2016’s student’s created as part of the competition. In all honesty, we could have left the final event with 10 workable apps, and we are so excited to see where our student teams take their ideas in the future

Over lunchtime, student teams met for one final time with their mentors from United Learning and sponsors IDNS, Clevertouch, and Casio Projectors, as well as a graduate student mentor from IBM Careers. Within these groups, they finessed their presentations and prepared for judges questions. The 10 teams had an inspiring set of app ideas that they brought to the table during the competition presentations, which gave the judges and mentors real insight into the educational challenges these students faced.

The ideas 

Students at Northampton Academy designed “Xperience Learning”, an app to help 6th form, college and university students find work experience and internship opportunities through gamification. A Buzzfeed-style quiz would match student interests and career aspirations with jobs and work placement opportunities.

Sheffield Park Academy students created an education bucket list of outings or experiences – such as trips to museums or heritage sites of interest – that students can “earn” through good behaviour or academic performance. Based on their own experiences of moving and transitioning schools, Surbiton High School students created “SKL4U” to help students moving schools research where to go to help them make their choice. It would pull data from websites, newsletters and Ofsted reports into a single interface for students. 

The Wye School designed an app called “The World Changers” to promote global understanding, helping students to stop focussing on selfies, and think about ‘everybody elsesies’. Their idea would see information on development goals and global issues combined with cultural and historical stats, to create a learning portal. This would then provide information on charities, activism ideas, and weekly challenges based around issues students found interesting. 

Richard Rose Morton Academy chose to focus on a reality for Year 9 students – their impending GCSE’s. Their app, “Y9FE” would use psychometric testing to highlight different GCSE pathways for students based on their interests and academic strengths to ease some of the stress of selecting GCSE subjects.

Responding to the fact that finance and money is not taught as a priority in schools, yet is fundamentally important in university and business life, Greenacre School for Girls designed “Financial Helper” to teach students aged 11-18 core financial concepts. To cover off all stages and uses for money for young people the app is broken down into parts. Your Money covers the basics, Buying Stuff focuses on purchasing power, tax and credit cards, and The Future prepares students for loans, mortgages and other mature financial concepts.  

Glenmoor and Winton Academy created an exercise and tracking app called “Fitness Pro”, centred around boosting self-esteem and making exercise more accessible. A short quiz would determine their users age, ability, and goals to suggest ideal exercises, and the app would then visually guide them through the training sequence to help them achieve their desired result.

“Bully No More” by Swindon Academy provided students a reporting app for bullying incidences which allows student to send reports – either anonymously or not – directly to schools. Setting it apart from other bullying apps, access would be free and not require log-ins, providing a welcome atmosphere for students to share their concerns. 

John Smeaton Academy designed an e-praise app which would develop a feedback loop on student performance directly between parents and teachers. Through pictures and scans of student work, as well as their own feedback, teachers can help parents become more involved with their children’s education. 

Wrapping up the presentations, Guildford High School presented “Chemmotion”, a curriculum based virtual science lab for students to participate in set practicals, regardless of access to lab facilities. The students discovered that 70% of UK schools don’t have equipped lab facilities, and there is unequal funding of science per student (from £80 to .04p) leading in poor science results, and low uptake in engineering and maths degrees and careers. The app would also allow for a bit of fun in its ‘free mode’ where students would be able to mix any virtual chemicals to learn their reactions, without risk.

The winners

These ideas were presented in front of a panel of four industry professionals, who analysed the entries based on if they demonstrated a clear description of the idea, the impact the idea would have, the uniqueness of the idea, the plans to promote the idea, the teamwork and passion in the idea and how the team answered questions. The esteemed judges were Charlotte Wallis from 7billionideas, Dominic Norrish from United Learning, Darren Clayman from IDNS and Jez Brooks from IBM.

The student teams each did a fantastic job and clearly demonstrated how far they had come over the course of the competition, so several awards were handed out. Richard Rose Morton Academy & Y9FE were awarded “Best Video” for their silent movie-themed presentation. Guildford High School & Chemmotion were awarded “Best Presentation” for their research, composure, preparation and presenting skills.

Third place was awarded to The Wye School and The World Changers, and Northampton Academy’s Xperience Learning took home second place. The winning application though, which will see sponsors IDNS, Clevertouch and Casio transform into an app store offering in the next six months was Greenacre School for Girls’ entry, Financial Helper, addressing the real problems around financial education young people face.

Phil Clark, head of projection at Casio UK explained, “We were blown away by the quality of the ideas, and the solutions which #UnitedApp2016’s student’s created as part of the competition. In all honesty, we could have left the final event with 10 workable apps, and we are so excited to see where our student teams take their ideas in the future.” 

Myles, student at Glenmoor and Winton Academy perfectly summed up the event: “The #UnitedApp2016 competition was a good way to learn how to express our ideas effectively. Most of the time, you have loads of ideas, but nothing ever comes of them – they stay in your mind. This competition taught us how to elaborate on those ideas, as it helps people build their confidence to see things through. It helped to give us all confidence, taught us teamwork, and how most of all to have faith in our own ideas.”

The #UnitedApp2016 Final took place on 10 March at IBM Warwick. Learn more about the competition at