With students enthusiastically returning to classrooms around the country, the 2021 Congressional App Challenge came to a close on November 1st, yielding 2,101 fully functioning apps. After eighteen months of disruptions to educational cadences for students everywhere, the Congressional App Challenge came roaring back with 7,174 students registering for this year’s competition. All told, 340 Members of Congress hosted Congressional App Challenges in their districts across 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.
The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during our annual #HouseOfCode festival.
Now in its seventh year, the Congressional App Challenge has established itself as the largest student computer science competition in the world with a broad national reach. The 340 participating Members of Congress represent over 75% of Americans, providing inspiration to students in all corners of the nation. Members of Congress will be announcing their district winners between November 15th and December 31st, 2021.
In response to the obstacles caused by COVID-19, the Congressional App Challenge created a series of original initiatives to ensure students around the nation had access to the materials and inspiration necessary to compete in this year’s challenge. Our report on the impact of COVID-19 exacerbating racial inequalities and educational gaps in tech showcased that a lack of access to tech hardware, a precarious environment for online learning, and a lack of educational support are all factors that impacted students’ ability to learn in the pandemic. Furthermore, we found that COVID significantly impacted many aspects of the challenge, and while we are steadily returning to normal, our data shows that recruitment numbers from teachers remain lower than pre-pandemic levels. In the past, teachers played a key role in student recruitment and the new numbers show that educators are still seeing the repercussions of COVID in their classrooms. However, the pandemic did not impact students’ growing interest in STEM. Early exit surveys indicate that 94% of students who participated in the Congressional App Challenge will consider future careers in STEM.
In an effort to reduce educational inequalities and disparities in computer science, our team focused their energies this year on targeted outreach to 20 key communities around the country. Within these areas, we worked on cultivating contacts to develop a network of over 400 teachers, educators, and individuals passionate about computer science to aid students in their journey into the STEM field. By providing access to resources and a team of mentors in these communities, we aim to see a spike in student engagement where it is most desperately needed. Through the fall, the Congressional App Challenge also presented the Back to School Webinar Series, a series of webinars hosted in conjunction with supporters of the program that provided free training and mentorship opportunities for over 700 App Challengers.
In the seven years of the Congressional App Challenge, the program has yielded 1,782 App Challenges across all 50 states. The non-profit Internet Education Foundation provides the Congressional App Challenge with staffing and support. Thousands of functional apps have been created by over 40,000 students, and participant demographics surpass all industry diversity metrics.