Have Students Create Apps? Yes, They Can!

Apps & Mobile, EdTech, Learning, Learning Innovations

As one of the hosts of the EdTech podcast Techlandia, we had been trying to get some more students on the show recently. Sometimes the stars align….we had it happen recently on morning at 7:30 AM. Brad Wilson is a great educator in Michigan. We all love the app that he helped create- Write About This. We even had him featured on his own show talking about how a “regular old” fourth grade teacher helped to create an app, in our Write About This App Special. Sometimes the best conversations happen after we turn off the mic on Techlandia. That was when Brad told us that they were about to complete an app that was created by students. The app came out a few weeks later and it was called Things To Think About. It has some very thoughtful writing prompts designed to encourage conversations and ideas on issues that students face. I think it would be a great “Family Friday” app to encourage some healthy debate among your class. I know, I know, yes thank you, I AM an elementary teacher.

The story of how the app came to life is where this story begins. Joyce King, a second grade teacher from Portage, Michigan, began saving prompts that she had used with her class. She finally decided to take those prompts and self-publish them in 1997. Brad lived in the area and purchased the book on the recommendation of another teacher. It became one of Brad’s go to books while he was teaching. He decided in 2012, that it was time to update the book for the digital world. Brad works in the Jackson Intermediate School District and knew of a great teacher, Steve Keinath, that he had connected with at an Edcamp. Steve, a programming teacher at the Jackson Area Career Center, had the students and resources to turn Joyce’s book into an app. This app would be created BY students, FOR students and teachers around the world.

The way that Steve and Brad had students create the app while they stood by as the “mentors in the center” was inspiring. (Shout out to @mrhooker for teaching me that saying) Brad had about 60 2nd – 5th grade students illustrate the prompts for the app. The students were given the freedom to be creative and make their own connections to the prompts in their illustrations. A great idea that makes the app useful for the younger grades is the audio component. These students also provided voice for all the prompts in case a younger student needs it read to them.

With the audio and illustrations complete, it was now time for Steve to step in with his high school seniors for the coding. Steve found two students that were willing take on the challenge of creating the app as an extra project. Brenna Dillay took on the designing of the app. She created the graphics using a Wacom tablet and Photoshop software. Brenna was also responsible for the user interface, which she wanted to make fun and easy. She decided that a cute animal theme would tie the app all together. Users could tap the doghouse to get to the home screen and choose categories with animals acting out the prompt themes. While Brenna worked on all the design details Jacob Chesney worked on the coding. Jacob used Corona SDK to build the iOS app. Jacob and Steve used a combination of Dropbox and Edmodo to troubleshoot and develop the code. This year, Steve is working with students to make Things To Think About into an Android app.

I suggest that teachers should all give the app a download and take a look regardless of what grade you teach. It may provide you with some inspiration for your own app, or idea to pursue with YOUR students this year. Brad Wilson and Steve Keinath deserve a lot of credit for what they are doing with students. You can reach out to them on Twitter and both of them are happy to answer your questions. You can also find all the resources to our podcast on our Learnist board, and here on their website, Connecting Educators.

Jon Samuelson

Jon Samuelson

Jon Samuelson (@ipadsammy on Twitter) is the co-host of the Techlandia and TechEducator Podcasts. In addition, Jon is a Client Solutions Specialist for Atlas Learning, which just debuted LiveSlide in August and spent many years as elementary classroom teacher.

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