Shaileen Pokress, a curriculum developer at MIT's Media Lab, which houses App Inventor, is now gathering support and curricular materials for the program. MIT will also create tutorials and support materials of its own to go along with the tool, she says.
Students in the Washington-based Youth APPLab also use App Inventor to create apps for Android devices.
The Youth APPLab, which was created in 2010 after it won funding from the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition, teaches students in the city how to create their own apps, as well as how to work together in teams and present their products in a professional manner, says Leshell Hatley, the creator of the program.
About 75 percent of participants have no prior programming experience, she says.
One such student is Afia Tyus, an 8th grader who helped build an app to teach the numbers one to 10 in English, French, and Spanish, and the "Girl Crew App," which is designed "to encourage girls to embrace their individual and collective power," she says. It contains tips on doing well in school, links to homework help, and a reading list.
"These programs expand your view on careers like computer science and engineering and show the fun in them," Afia says.
Ninth grader Muhammad Hawkins credits Youth APPLab with giving him the entrepreneurial skills he needed to open his own app-development company with his brother, Hazma, also in the program.
The first year, a class of 25 students met twice a week to learn about technology--everything from piracy to programming, says Hatley, who runs Youth APPLab. Students received their own smartphones with texting and Internet capabilities to download and research apps. And in January 2011, they finally began working with App Inventor to design their own app prototypes.
Over the summer of 2011, Hatley hosted a course that focused more on the entrepreneurial side of launching apps.
Four of the students in her initial group have gone on to declare majors or minors in computer science in college, she says.
"We hope we're contributing to the future of the STEM fields [of science, technology, engineering, and math], the economy, and these students' lives," says Hatley. "Watching them grow has been amazing."
In North Carolina, officials at Apex High School near Raleigh, opened an after-school app-programming course in February 2012 for students in the school's 335-student Academy of Information Technology, which spans grades 9-12. The course is a partnership with the Morrisville, N.C., technology company Lenovo and the New York City-based National Academy Foundation, a college- and career-prep nonprofit group.
Lenovo donated 30 Wi-Fi-enabled Thinkpad tablets, six touch-screen computers, a projector, and a cart for the tablets for the course. Lenovo also provided a course in app programming from Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, for the students and a timeline of where they should be to help them stay on track.
When the course was first announced, Julie Oster, the director of the school's Academy of Information Technology, was pleasantly surprised by the amount of response from students. About 70 students signed up to take part in the after-school course, on top of their normal schoolwork and extracurricular activities.
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