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Students Learn App Development

Students across the country are getting a lesson in app development, equipping them with practical skills for 21st-century careers.

Lenovo and the National Academy Foundation (NAF) are backing the program, which is in its first year. Five schools from NAF’s network of career academies are piloting the program as part of Lenovo’s initiative to encourage greater student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and strengthen 21st-century skills. 

Mike Schmedlen, Lenovo’s head of Education and Public Healthcare, said the program was started as a way to provide real-world experience in app development for kids who are interested in the tech careers.

“This is something that really capitalizes on project-based learning,” Schmedlen said. “It has a really nice interdisciplinary blend of business and technology. All indications are that teachers and students are really excited about it.”

The program began in January 2012 and will wrap up at the end of the school year with a workshop at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT’s school of management and media lab will help Lenovo and the NAF evaluate the quantitative and qualitative results of the program as well as make recommendations for its future.

Schmedlen said that while there is a strict curriculum to the program, the students have complete freedom in terms of the app they create.

“The funny thing here, anecdotally, is that the kids really migrated toward apps that aid learning,” Schmedlen said. “Keeping in mind that these are fairly advanced students in high school, they are already pretty aware of technology issues. It seems like a lot of the students wanted to create apps that capitalized on multiple intelligences and that type of learning.”

Students used the free, open-source Python programming language to design their apps.

“One of the prerequisites for the course was that all the students had to go through a computer science course that is based on Python,” Schmedlen said. “What’s really cool is that when we were building the curriculum, instead of coming up with lesson plans, what we did was aggregate open-source material. We went to MIT’s open-sourceware, we went to Carnegie Mellon’s online learning initiative, aggregated all this material and built a great soup-to-nuts program. Also, obviously the Android developers’ site has been terrific as well.”

To help students and teachers implement the curriculum, Lenovo provided a package of technology products to each school, including Android-based ThinkPad Tablets and large-format ThinkCentre HD All-in-One desktops, among other items.

“High-tech skills are critical for North Carolina’s pipeline of future workers,” said NC Governor Bev Perdue, whose Apex High School’s Academy of Information Technology in Apex, NC is one of the participating schools. “Unique partnerships like this one not only give high school students real-world, real-time learning opportunities, but they align with the broader goals of business, education and government to create North Carolina’s next generation of professional leaders.” 

Other schools offering the app development course include Grover Cleveland High School in New York City, Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles, Pathways to Technology Magnet School in Hartford, CT, and A.J. Moore Academy of Information and Technology in Waco, TX. The program aims to ultimately make the curriculum available to NAF’s 100 Academies of Information Technology. 

“Our schools are strong because we have great partnerships with business and industry,” said Anthony J. Tata, superintendent of the Wake County (NC) Public School System. “This unique program gives our students practical experience with innovative technology at a time when they're making decisions about their future careers. We're creating the next generation of entrepreneurs.” 

RunRev, creators of the cross-platform development environment LiveCode, partnered with educator John Patten on a how-to for student app development titled Learn to Develop Mobile and Desktop Tools Using LiveCode . Patten has used LiveCode to teach students in 5th through 8th grades the fundamentals of programming and has experienced great success in sparking student passions for technology and developing their own apps.

LiveCode is used by school districts and schools from K-12 through university levels, and has gained popularity among educators due to its English-like language, intuitive and easy-to-learn interface, and ability to deploy applications to any platform – mobile, web, desktop and server. With LiveCode’s visual development environment, students are able to see immediate results, giving them instant gratification that creates a desire to learn programming skills.

Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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