By Michelle Reese, GSN Guest Writer

Smart phone apps, video games and website use are a part of daily life for most Gilbert and East Valley teens.

Now, they’re also the ones developing them.

Charged with creating an app, game or website to help make life “more effective,” Higley Unified School District students from Williams Field High School as well as Sossaman and Cooley middle schools took part in the Great Arizona Code Challenge this month.

The competition presented students with an outline of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and asked them to use that idea as a base to develop an app, website or game people may use to be more effective in life.

Higley schools offer coding – the tool used to create an app, website or game – in many ways on campuses: from in-class special events to after-school clubs to middle and high-school level courses.

Some students at the event also participate in engineering or robotics classes. This was a chance for the students to put lessons to use with a hands-on project or try coding for the first time to see if it’s a field of interest.

The group of students from Alise Kraus’ engineering program at Williams Field arrived early on a Friday and were given until 3 p.m. the next day to tackle their projects. They worked in teams of two or solo – sometimes pairing up with students from another school.

Students also bounced back and forth from table to table encouraging one another or seeking advice from some of the volunteers. Most students were designing an app or website. About 40 high school students participated in the two-day event, most from the East Valley.

Cooley and Sossaman robotics and computer foundations teachers Joe Bisaccia, Dick Smith and John Burke took middle school students to the one-day Saturday event. There, they competed against about 100 of their peers.

Students used a variety of code options to create their programs. High school student projects included an exercise challenge website to encourage physical fitness, a game to keep little ones busy while mom and dad got more work done and a trivia game to develop thinking skills.

“Our STEM students attended a great event that had them thinking outside the box,” Burke said. “They really enjoyed themselves and learned a bunch about programming skills.”

“I decided to come because I’ve never coded before, and I wanted to have a chance to learn about it and actually see the real-world application to see how I would do given the task to code,” Williams Field engineering student Chris Van Orden, a senior, said.

“What we’re learning right now can be applied later down the road when we are getting jobs,” said Alex Haynie, sophomore, an engineering student at Williams Field. “We can use what we’re learning in engineering. What we learned last year was 3D modeling, and we can combine that with creating websites.”

Kraus said she was excited to see what students were going to create.

“I want them to realize how much they can achieve by teaching themselves and working as teams. I want them to realize how much they can excel,” she said during the event. “It is great to see their faces when they accomplish something they didn’t think they could do.”

All students presented their projects at the end of the event. Students were judged on functionality, technical prowess, appearance, creativity, degree of difficulty, helping the cause and presentation.

Cooley’s Zach Ramirez, teamed up with Casteel Junior High student James Hepworth, finished second overall.

“They wrote 447 lines of HTML code explaining how to help people learn the basics of managing money,” Smith said.

Michelle Reese is the public relations coordinator for Higley Unified.