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NYC Schools' Competition Seeks Apps for Math Skills

The New York City public schools are taking on the unusual role of offering incentives to software developers to come up with innovative—and above all, useful—apps and games that can help students acquire math skills.

The city school system is staging a competition, called "The Gap App Challenge," that asks developers to design tools focused on middle-grades math that can be used by students, parents, or teachers.

City schools officials believe the district-led technology competition is the first of its kind in the nation. They also said the city schools plan to hold similar challenges to cultivate new teaching tools in the future.

The contest is part of the New York City Department of Education's Innovation Zone program, an effort launched in the 2010-2011 school year, which agency officials said is meant to test innovative ideas that help students learn at their own pace and in a more customized fashion. The program began with 81 schools, and 250 are participating today.

A central goal of the effort is to encourage technology developers to think more closely about the specific needs of schools when crafting products, and to give school officials more of a voice in that process, said Steven Hodas, the executive director of Innovate NYC Schools, the program within the city's department of education that is overseeing the competition.

"The idea is to improve the marketplace, and put great information out there for schools about what's good" technology, Hodas told Education Week, and to "create smarter demand and smarter supply."

Starting this week, would-be creators of apps, games, and other programs can submit plans for learning tools, which could be used in or out of school. Creatively-minded developers can submit applications until April 10. Their plans will be reviewed by two different panels: one made up of teachers and principals, the other made up of city officials and those familiar with technology, media, and design.

The apps and games will be judged on "originality, potential impact, and feasibility," city schools officials said.

The winners will be announced in June. The project will be eligible for a total of up to $104,000 in this round of the competition, including technical support from technology companies sponsoring the competition, such as Amazon.

A total of nine awards will be given this round, Hodas said. The Innovate NYC Schools program is supported through a $3 million federal Investing in Innovation grant through the U.S. Department of Education, and has received about $500,000 in contributions from private sources, including foundations, Hodas said. He noted that the Gap App competition is funded through private sources.

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