A day spent designing next-gen apps with Boston’s sixth graders

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A day spent designing next-gen apps with Boston’s sixth graders

“A little up and to the left. Hmmm…I think the font should be bigger. Yeah — that’s it!” This kind of brainstorming session could be overheard at any Boston technology company — not exactly the kind of conversation that would make heads turn. Unless those developers happen to be sixth graders.

On October 16 that was exactly the scene that look place at our Boston office when we participated in Guppy Tank, a hands-on volunteer experience aimed at providing a STEM project-based learning opportunity for Boston middle school students. Guppy Tank is part hackathon and part pitch competition, with the day concluding in a Shark Tank-style presentation. This the second year that Buildium has participated in the event run by Building Impact in collaboration with Tech Underwriting Greater Good (TUGG) and Boston Public Schools.

Thirty students from the Dennis C. Haley Pilot School were tasked with prototyping an app designed to solve a problem around healthy living, with our Buildians (our employee volunteers) providing direction. Buildians from marketing, product, engineering, customer support served as team leads, working with the students through the design process. The challenge ties in with the sixth grade STEM curriculum in Boston Public Schools and the intention of exposing students to a wide range of skills and lessons, such as design methods, market research, engineering, marketing, and application prototyping and design.

The app ideas included a junk food monitoring system, a healthy food recommendation app, and a mindfulness tool aimed at reducing stress (who couldn’t use that?). From there, the students (alongside their Buildium team leaders) moved through three different breakout sessions as they began to design their app.

Guppy Tank brought Boston middle school students to Buildium headquarters to come up with an original pitch for a new, healthy-living app.

Guppy Tank brought Boston middle school students to Buildium headquarters to come up with an original pitch for a new, healthy-living app.

First, the students focused on how they could begin marketing the app, which started with identifying the problem they were attempting to solve and determining who their target audience is. Once the students settled on an audience, they moved onto product management aimed at solving the specific problem. The students were encouraged to think beyond what makes the app “cool” or how they could potentially make money from it, but to focus instead on the features and functionality of the app. Finally, the students worked with their team leaders to physically design a logo and homepage for their app — this is where the students’ creativity kicked into high gear!

“The best part of Guppy Tank is being able to see how proud the 6th graders are as they start to understand what really goes into creating an app, and to see themselves in the process as future developers, UX designers, product people, and marketers. It really shows when, despite their nerves, they get in front of a crowded room to tell their peers and strangers all about their idea, how they worked together, and what problem they are solving,” said Laura Ciccone, Product Manager, who participated as a team lead.

The day ended with the three teams pitching their app idea to a panel of judges. Each student presented their idea with clarity and enthusiasm — the envy of any entrepreneur looking to pitch their idea to venture capitalists! Prizes were awarded for Best Pitch, Most Creative Design, and Most Interesting Problem to Solve.

Everyone in our Boston-based office ended the day inspired and energized by our Guppy Tank “undergrads.” We can only hope that the students left feeling equally inspired and will consider submitting their resumes to us in about ten years, give or take!

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