HUDSON — Schools are preparing students to succeed not only academically, but also in the world of business and technology.
Regina Gao, 17, a junior at Western Reserve Academy, created an educational app for iPhone called Storyify that helps students learn science in middle school as part of her Compass program project, an individual study that students apply to do during the school year.
Initially, Regina proposed a 3D teaching tool for neuroscience to show the functions of the brain, but it was considered too difficult to accomplish in the time frame, so she changed the project to a teaching tool.
“In middle school, biology was my least favorite class,” Regina said about her school in Shanghai, China. “There was a big lecture hall with 50 students and the teacher wrote terms and diagrams on a blackboard, I couldn’t understand it. I needed a different way to learn.”
According to the Apple app store preview, advertisement-free Storyify “explains science knowledge to middle school students through comics and interactive memory tests. Personifications and analogies are used in order to lead a fuller comprehension of scientific concepts.”
Random sketches she made in class inspired her app, she said. Regina drew on her imagination and saw the nucleus as a character in a story.
“The nucleus was the king and the cell his kingdom,” Regina said.
She created other characters with interaction and reaction to the kingdom.
Western Reserve Academy’s teachers provided the support for her project to succeed.
Computer science teacher Jennifer Nagano helped with the software using Swift for the language and Xcode for the software.
Because it was a teaching tool, Regina needed to make sure the information was correct and relied on Beth Pethel, the freshman biology teacher, to check her work and make sure it was relevant for students between middle school and their freshman year in high school.
Regina tested the app on middle grade students at the Hudson Montessori School, Hudson Middle School and Old Trail School in Bath.
“They gave positive feedback,” Regina said.
In addition, the STEM Afterschool group at the Hudson Library & Historical Society liked her app and wanted to make a chemistry reaction story.
“When I demonstrated my app to middle school students, they understood my analogy and concepts and they began to write their own stories,” Regina said. “They can Storyify anything like history, physics and chemistry.”
Regina said her vision for the app is for everyone to be an author and upload stories to a platform on her app.
Regina won the Northeast Ohio Young Entrepreneur Pitch Challenge at University School in Ohio this spring and distributed her prize of 24 boxes of soda to the dorms at Western Reserve but kept the monetary prize. She also competed in the Next Launch at the Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur in Culver, Ind., but didn’t win.
Her heart is set on going to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and is attending a summer program in the dual major of management and technology at Wharton.
Her next step is to create a virtual reality or augmented reality experience with the app.
The Wang Innovation Center is a collaborative learning space where students take ideas from concept to completions using state-of-the art design and production equipment including a variety of software, laser cutters 3D printers, molds, circuits in addition to more traditional wood and metal shops.
Regina said she used the center computers after her computer crashed. She also used the equipment to create posters for her app and plans to create a logo and a physical version of her app.
Ralf Borrmann, her adviser, said students make prototypes at the Wang Innovation Center but it is more difficult to take an idea and make it a working app like Regina did.
“It’s a finished product,” Borrmann said. “She’s gone above and beyond expectations.”
The Wang Innovation Center has taken off in many different directions, Borrmann said. It offers a full curriculum and 250 students take elective courses in the building. They also do work for businesses from Akron and nationwide, and offer adult classes and host events.
"Students do projects from music, science and history in the WIC building,” Borrmann said. “It has transformed what students do here [at WRA].”
Next year Regina will take Introduction to Entrepreneur and Business at Western Reserve and take an idea from concept to a finished product. She already has a head start because of her Compass Project.
Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org