Think app development classes are beyond the reach of your high school? They’re more feasible than you think, said the director of a tech academy that’s teaching teens this marketable real-world skill.
Drawing on her experience with the Lenovo and the National Academy Foundation (NAF) program to teach high-schoolers app development, Julie Oster believes that schools across the country can offer similar programs with relative ease.
“I think the other schools that are participating in this Lenovo program are doing it within classes,” said Oster, director of the Academy of Information Technology at Apex High School in Apex, NC. “We’re doing it as an after-school program. But in terms of adopting this type of program into the curriculum, definitely. There’s the desire there on the part of the students to do this kind of thing, and it is certainly within their ability to learn it and do it.”
Currently five schools across the country participate in Lenovo and NAF’s program to teach app development. Students work to come up with an idea for the app, craft a business plan including marketing strategies and finally, create the app. Oster said that because the software to build the app—as well as the Android platform itself—is open-source, there is very little schools need to invest financially in order to offer this type of class.
At Apex, students are working on a myriad of apps ranging from games to educational tools. Oster said one app in particular has garnered interest from a high-profile charity.
“The V Foundation, which is [the late college basketball coach] Jim Valvano’s cancer charity, hosts a celebrity golf tournament every year, and one of our student groups is working with them to create an app for the event,” Oster said. “It’s really exciting for the kids and for us, but it also shows that there are real-world applications for this type education.”
While Apex is a tech academy, and its students are typically more tech-savvy than the average high-schooler, Oster noted that they had no prior experience with app development. Because of this, she believes a school doesn’t have to be a tech academy to successfully adopt a similar curriculum.
“We do offer two paths here—programming and design—but nothing specific to this,” she explained. “Android apps rely heavily on Java coding, and we only introduce Java to our seniors. So while our programming students were really interested in this, they had no idea what they were getting into.”
The program began in January and will wrap up at the end of the school year with a workshop at MIT. MIT’s school of management and the school’s media lab will aid Lenovo and the NAF in evaluating the quantitative and qualitative results of the program.
“The student feedback has been really good,” Oster said. “I knew they’d be interested, but I was surprised by how much they were interested. I was overwhelmed by the level of interest across the board.”