Minnetonka Middle School student Omar Elamri may just be the youngest person to have created an app now found in the Apple Store. Called Digitr, the 13-year old's digital hall pass app for middle school teachers tracks how long and how often students are out of class.
The idea for a custom electronic hall pass was first suggested as a district innovation through Minnetonka Schools' annual Hunt for Big Ideas. The goal was to come up with something that could be integrated with the iPads students already use in school. While the idea generated early interest, it didn't gain traction until STEM teacher Michelle Brunik learned of it and brought it to the perfect student to help get it off the ground.
"I knew Omar had the skills [to create the app]," said Ms. Brunik, who also serves as advisor for an afterschool coding club for kids called Coders Unite, where the app came to fruition. "I wanted to push him, and I knew if I gave him a challenge, he would rise up."
After working on another student's initial prototype for such an app, Omar decided to start over and build his own prototype for Digitr from scratch. He learned and applied new coding skills, worked with Apple and the school's technology department to fine tune it, and surveyed teachers and students all before testing the prototype. In January, he launched Digitr (then called mPass), and it was used all semester at his school, Minnetonka Middle School East. Omar then met with representatives from Apple to show them the Digitr app.
"Not one of our team members was familiar with a middle school student building an app this extensive. There was a lot of excitement around the table," said one of the Apple Corp. representatives. "It was inspirational for us."
More recently, Omar has added even more features, such as the ability for teachers and principals to view analytics on the activity patterns of students.
It's no surprise this achievement comes from a student in the Minnetonka School District, a district that sets a high standard when it comes to using technology as an accelerator for learning. Beginning in elementary school—as early as kindergarten—the District's innovative Tonka CODES curriculum introduces students to basic coding principles.
"It's not just that they develop the coding skills or the ability to code and program," said Pete Dymit, principal of Omar's school. "Once they understand things at that level, it better positions them to be successful in a variety of different fields."
Coding opportunities don't stop in middle school. Omar, like all Minnetonka students, may choose to continue to explore coding in STEM classes, and in eighth grade, they may elect to take Introduction to Computer Science, which is also offered at Minnetonka High School and through Tonka Online. High school students may also enroll in courses such as AP Computer Science Principles, IB Computer Science, Video Game Design, Web Page Design, and AP Computer Science A.
"As technology advances and coding programs become more accessible, we expect to see even more students stepping up to address real-world challenges like this, by creating technological solutions," Dymit said.
Learn more about Minnetonka's coding initiative
Learn more about the Digitr app