SPOTSWOOD, NJ - Just like parents, teachers face increasing challenges to keep students off of their cell phones during school hours.
Despite rules that restrict cell phone use on school grounds, somehow kids find a way to Snapchat, text or post to Instagram. So, how about an app that actually rewards students for keeping their cell phones locked during the school day? A teacher's and principal's dream?
Two Spotswood High School students, Shivani Vyas and Jenna Bousellam, recently created an app called ChargerPoints that does just that.
The innovative app was the culmination of a year-long project for their Special Topics in Computer Science course. It's an independent study class that is considered honors level and is taught by Business, Vocational and Technical Education teacher, Gary Hull. Students can work individually or with a partner on self-directed projects in advanced programming, network administration, computer imaging, computer 2D/3D animation, web page design and development or any other technology related topic that is teacher approved. Many students design apps or video games, depending on their area of interest.
Since it is an independent study class, students can plan on a year-long project like Vyas and Bousellam or a project that is more geared toward a marking period. Hull keeps track of the students' progress via weekly blog entries that the students must complete every Monday evening. To be a part of the Special Topics in Computer Science course, students have to have taken Honors Computer Programming as well as garner Hull's recommendation for the class, which means the students must have a general ideal about where their independent study journey will take them throughout the school year.
"I came up with this idea because I saw this app in the App Store and it was made for college students to keep their phones away," Vyas explained. "I tried to sign up my high school and it wasn't there."
Vyas was motivated to created an app that applied directly to Spotswood High School. She immediately recruited her classmate, Bousellam and the pair proceeded to spend the majority of the school year designing ChargerPoints.
"The goal of this app is to get the phones out of the students hands; in class, in school, any time associated with school," Vyas continued. "So, we give points to students that are in class, school, not using their phones."
ChargerPoints works on android phones though both students said that adapting it to iPhones is certainly a doable project. Each user makes up his or her own account. Students accumulate points by keeping their phones locked during the 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. school hours; when they are on the Spotswood High School campus. Points can be used to redeem coupons to local businesses, starting with the Spotswood High School school store, the Charger Corner.
The goal, Vyas and Bousellam detailed is to approach local business that teens frequent like Subway, Dunkin' Donuts and the AMC Movie Theater at Brunswick Square Mall to agree to offer coupons. The example the pair demonstrated was how a student could redeem a coupon for a small popcorn at the AMC Theater.
The coupon shows on the phone and needs to be scanned by the business within five minutes of being redeemed otherwise it goes away. Coupons stay in the My Deal section on the ChargerPoints app until the student wants to use them. The user can even email fellow students to boast about the number of points they have.
ChargerPoints is easy to navigate and even tells students why he or she may not be earning points. Most of the time it's because a user has failed to lock the phone while on school grounds.
This clever project certainly has real world application as many a frustrated teacher would say. So, what do the two seniors plan to do with their creation now that the school year is at an end?
"We were planning on it," Vyas said when asked if the pair planned on marketing their app. "But we are both going to different colleges and are really busy this summer. We love this project. I wish we could."
Bousellam will be headed to the New Jersey Institute of Technology in the fall where she plans to pursue a computing and business degree which combines both a computer science and business course of study. Vyas will be attending Rutgers Honor College where she will major in biomedical engineering with a computer science minor.
"I think it has huge potential," Hull said of his students' creation. "If they had another year in this class, they would have it completely set to where it could be monitized."
Hull has taught Vyas and Bousellam for multiple years at Spotswood High School and complimented the hard-working and intelligent students, saying that they would definitely be missed as they move on to the next facet of their education.
However, both students said that picking ChargerPoints up somewhere down the road, possibly after college graduation, was not totally out of the realm of possibilities for these bright young women.
"I can't imagine that it couldn't be used at other high schools and obviously this one," Hull said. "With phones being so pervasive these days."
So, hang in there teachers. ChargerPoints may be coming to the App Store somewhere in the future. Now, how about an app that encourages kids to stay off their phones at home?