DOD Challenges Developers To Improve STEM Education

Department aims to debunk common mistakes children make when learning about science through a new mobile apps contest.
10 Great iPad Apps From Uncle Sam
10 Great iPad Apps From Uncle Sam
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The Department of Defense (DOD) is challenging developers to create mobile applications that will promote students' education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by focusing on debunking common mistakes children make in their understanding of science.

The DOD's STEM App Challenge calls for developers to create mobile apps that can help students in grades K-12 to learn through problem solving, discovery, and exploration in the area of "common misconceptions of science," according to the challenge's website.

The DOD also hopes to foster the use of mobile devices internally to promote personnel education, said Kristy Murray, director of the DOD's Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, a research and development effort overseeing the contest.

[Increased support for STEM figures prominently in a recent federal report. See 10 Government Ideas To Spur Innovation.]

"The STEM App Challenge will benefit the national STEM efforts for K-12 education, but may also have an immediate impact on the Defense Department," she said. "We are always looking for innovative ideas for how we better incorporate mobile devices for learning within DOD."

Children often come early to science with a general misunderstanding of key scientific principles because those concepts don't agree with their understanding of the world, the DOD said.

"Given that a student's templates for the comprehension of concepts are a function of his or her prior learning experiences, misconceptions are often developed because these templates can be flawed," states the challenge website. For instance, a child might believe that cold is the opposite of heat, or that a wall socket produces electricity.

The objective of the STEM App Challenge, then, is to create an app that will help students acquire concept knowledge and understanding by engaging in tasks, simulations, or situations that require them to critically evaluate what they are learning and create their own understanding of concepts, said the DOD.

The contest is open to any developer free of charge and runs from April 2 until June 4. The ADLI will feature winning developers at its iFest Conference in Florida later this year.

STEM education has been a pet project of the Obama administration as part of a campaign to create a more technology-savvy workforce to help the United States compete better overseas.

Obama's White House also has promoted the use of challenges to help bring technology innovation from the private sector into the government. The administration even launched a website,, to help people find challenges to participate in.

As federal agencies embrace devices and apps to meet employee demand, the White House seeks one comprehensive mobile strategy. Also in the new Going Mobile issue of InformationWeek Government: Find out how the National Security Agency is developing technologies to make commercial devices suitable for intelligence work. (Free registration required.)

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