Washington State Insider

Teacher Anthony Rovente, left, and Tim Fry, far right, with students from Lopez Island School.
Teacher Anthony Rovente, left, and Tim Fry, far right, with students from Lopez Island School.


The power of the road trip is alive and well, thanks to a group of students and a mobile app platform from 468 Communications that enables project based learning. While many students learn about history via a field trip to a historic site or museum, five Lopez Island Middle School students made history in their Northwest History class. Calling it ProjectWA, the eighth graders designed a way to reward people for seeking out unique, historic places around Washington state. Led by history teacher Anthony Rovente with technical assistance from Tim Fry of 468 Communications, the students created their very own Washington state history app. They selected heritage-based locations to be included in that app, conducted historical research about each site, and wrote content for “Washington State Insider,” a free download on Google Play and the iOS App Store.

Once the app was launched, Fry and his family promoted the app via a 2000-mile history road trip of Washington state in a ProjectWA-branded RV. Along the way, they invited state residents to suggest other historic places to be added to the Washington State Insider app.

A unique feature of the 468 Insider app platform is its reward program for users. In May 2016, Fry launched a visitors app for the San Juan Islands based on this platform. That app, San Juan Islands Insider, gamifies tourist wayfinding by highlighting locations where users can collect points – including historic sites, recreation spots and businesses. Visitors physically visit a site listed in the app, and GPS verifies one’s presence at that location so that points can be accrued for redemption at reward locations. Not only does this app incentivize exploration, it also encourages visitors to frequent local businesses to redeem their points. For instance, 50 points could translate to a 50% discount at a local restaurant or retail store.

Instead of discounts at businesses, The Washington State Insider app created by the Lopez Island students offers discounted admission to the Washington State History Museum as its user reward. The history-for-students-by-students Washington State Insider app went live in June 2016 with nearly 100 sites. By the end of the summer, it had been downloaded thousands of times, generating significant media attention across the state – for both ProjectWA and the off-the-beaten-path historic sites it was designed to promote.

The long-term goal for the project is threefold: 1) that listings for this app will continue to expand to include all the unique and lesser-traveled historic sites and communities in Washington state, 2) other educators will adopt the ProjectWA platform and encourage student-directed learning that uses technology to make history more relevant to today’s mobile generation; and 3) consumer downloads will raise awareness about history and increase preservation of the state’s distinctive heritage sites.

While Fry and his family were promoting ProjectWA across the state, the world was introduced to Pokémon Go, an app based on similar location-aware technology as 468 Insider.  For Fry, this instant craze validated his approach to applying gamification to communities that he took with the Insider platform. It also helped illustrate the varying degrees of engagement that result from different applications of mobile technology.

“The emergence of these types of apps shows that games appeal to people of all ages,” said Fry. “It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the best use of mobile technology is one that contributes to actual, not virtual, presence – leading to more meaningful engagement in the real world.”

ProjectWA is a good example of how STEM can be applied to education subjects like history that don’t typically involve science, technology, engineering or math. It has inspired other schools, such as St. John School and the American School of Paris, to launch their own projects using this student-directed learning approach.