New software tools to make programming easier will allow a consortium of business, university and public school partner to see if elementary school students in the Cincinnati area can design a successful smart phone app. Cincinnati.com reports that Mt. Lookout, Ohio's Kilgour School will run an after-school technology program on app development for grades 1 – 6 during the month of February. Northern Kentucky University and the nonprofit Partnership for Innovation in Education will work with national funding sources to teach the class.
Google and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made it possible to pose such a challenge to young students by designing a programming tool for non-programmers. Called "App Inventor," it will allow children to plan and make the app without knowing actual computer code for the inner workings of a smart phone. When they're finished, the project won't be over. There are two technology follow-ups planned for the kids' project.
Then they'll market it to the public, with all proceeds to go to the school. District officials hope to stream or record the enrichment class so it can be offered online to other CPS schools.
The idea was piloted last year in a class run by the Partnership for Innovation in Education. To teach marketing and financial literacy, kids helped develop an app and then learned how to market it.
The students came up with a smartphone app called "Lemon Smash," a game to help users learn financial literacy. NKU did the legwork to turn the kids' Lemon Smash idea into an actual app. It sells for 99 cents.
A national tech company, MiCTA, provided a $24,000 grant to create the current Kilgour School program. The kids will use tablet devices on the Sprint network to develop their new app using App Inventor. In the program last year, the children had the idea, but they could not actually program the app, which teaches financial literacy. But this year, the children will be asked to come up with a plan, design it, and do the programming.
The goal is to teach the kids critical thinking and marketing and let them have some fun in the classroom.
"We're teaching creativity," said Mary Welsh Schlueter, who founded Partnership for Innovation in Education and spearheaded the expansion of the app program. She's also a Kilgour mom.
"If they want to create an app outside the box, or outlandish, they can do it. It's encouraged. It might be the next big thing."
Northern Kentucky University is providing the programming know-how, with their Applied Informatics faculty member Chris Rider as the teacher. Although MIT's app builder has been used with kids before, it has never been tried with students as young as Kilgour's. MIT's Media Lab reports that they have not heard of kids younger than middle school being involved in such classes.
The Media Lab at MIT is itself a non-traditional university department. Founded at the start of the personal computer age, in 1985, it puts fewer constraints on what sorts of projects and exploration its faculty and students can carry out. The staff includes artists, programmers, engineers and sciences of various kinds who work as a team to solve unconventional problems. Projects include studies of how children learn, designing machines of the future, and engineering in the brain.
App Inventor has been used to create projects including a GPS-controlled large-scale game of checkers.