Students were split into groups of four, with Oster making sure to include at least one student with programming experience to serve as a "technical lead." (Juniors and seniors in the Academy of Information Technology have experience with programming language.)
And while each team has a teacher mentor, "we were really counting on students to take the lead," says Oster. Students set up their own meetings and work through the curriculum independently, with support from a teacher mentor.
Mary Silliman, a junior at Apex High, is participating in the program.
"I thought it was a really interesting opportunity and really exciting to be able to use different technology," she says. Although Silliman has used programming languages before, this is her first time learning Java.
Her team's app allows students at her school to keep track of sporting events and create tournament brackets out of them.
John Boezeman is also a junior in the program. Boezeman had already taught himself to make apps before the course was offered, he says, but he wanted to get involved to develop more experience working on a team.
"The biggest thing [I've learned] is working with groups because, like I said, I already have experience with the app part, but I typically work by myself," he says.
Learning the marketing aspect of app development is also new to him, he says.
Both Silliman and Boezeman noted that one of the hardest parts of the creation process was identifying a good app idea.
"There's so many things you can do, and so many ideas, but you have to pick something that's feasible in the timeline but is also kind of unique," says Boezeman.
In addition, staying motivated and working as independent groups outside school has been a challenge, Boezeman says. "You have to take your own initiative," he says.
Ray Shaik is the founder and executive director of the Oklahoma City-based TechJOYnt, an after-school STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education program that has just begun offering classes on creating apps. Partnering with schools, school libraries, businesses, and community centers in the area, the organization reaches out to youths ages 6 to 14.
Shaik's 12-year-old daughter, Ridah, recently took part in the app development class.
"We learned how to make an app called Scream Machine," she says. The app is used as an icebreaker with groups of children, she explains. Students take pictures of other students and record their screams. The app then mixes up the photos and the audio, and the students are supposed to match them back together.
"The hardest part is remembering the [programming] language and how we're supposed to do it," says Ridah, a 6th grader. "I don't actually know the language yet, but I'm picking it up bit by bit."
The Oakland, Calif.-based youth-media organization Youth Radio has also launched an app-creation track for young people.
In what is called the Mobile Action Lab, students use App Inventor to create apps. Elisabeth Soep, the research director and senior producer at Youth Radio, explains that participants in the Mobile Action Lab either create learning apps, which are meant to teach them the basics of app creation, or market-bound apps, which require significant time and resources to develop. The goal for market-bound apps is to push them out for sale to the general public.
"Our model is really based on young people participating and driving every phase of the design and development," says Soep.
Participants, who range in age from 14 to 24, work with a team to do their own market research, develop an app idea, design and create the app, craft a business plan, and market the app to the community.
Sometimes, the Mobile Action Lab brings in outside help to produce the app professionally, says Soep.
Donta Jackson is a 17-year-old junior at McClymonds High School in Oakland who has worked with the lab for about a year.
"I've learned how to create apps," says Jackson. "I've also learned that phones aren't smart until we give them the functionalities that make them smart."
For now, the Mobile Action Lab hosts long-term internships, which youths are paid to participate in, as well as weeklong crash courses in app-making. To be selected as interns in the program, students first have to go through at least three classes at Youth Radio and an application process.
An app now on the market developed by the Mobile Action Lab is called Forage City. It alerts users to drop-off points where restaurants, farmers' markets, and ordinary citizens with overabundant gardens have left surplus food.
Turning Forage City, which started as one girl's project in her own neighborhood, into a citywide app presented many logistical and technical challenges for students, says Soep.
"We would not have been able to break through those barriers" without the input of all the members of the group, she says.
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