Exactly two years ago I met Debbie Forster, the then co-CEO of Apps for Good at a conference in New York City. After attending a breakout session detailing how the UK-based program was being piloted in the US, I knew immediately that it would be a great fit for Arkansas.
Apps for Good was founded to empower young people to change the world through technology. Then less than six months old, Coding Arkansas’ Future helped school districts meet the new state mandate to provide all Arkansas high schoolers with the opportunity to learn computer science.
Apps for Good agreed to a four-teacher pilot on the spot, and in January 2016, students began incorporating their coding skills into real-world projects of their choice. The initial prototypes came to market just a few months later at Arkansas’ first Apps for Good Festival in April 2016.
In 2016/17, the program expanded to offer Apps for Good resources to all teachers participating in Coding Arkansas’ Future. With a full school year to prepare and unlimited access to industry experts, the April 2017 festival grew to include more than 80 students from a dozen schools from around the state, representing projects with backboards, elevator pitches, presentations, and hands-on demos.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson opened the event with a keynote praising students for their hard work and assuring them that the technical and project management skills displayed would be in high demand for years to come. Local industry representatives gave feedback on the student prototypes and answered questions about working as a technical professional in Arkansas.
Now, in 2017/18, Arkansas has more than 40 classrooms implementing the program, and we are on track for our largest festival yet in spring 2018.
ASMSA Entrepreneurship Instructor, Steve Rice attended the 2017 festival and has been previewing new course content that will soon go live. “The traction and rapid expansion of the Apps for Good program in Arkansas speaks not only to the quality of the program but to the importance of computer science and innovation education for all of our students.”
Apps for Good takes the often dry and abstract computer science concepts and places them in an active context. According to Rice, the approach, “…is based on modern, lean startup methodology. In addition to powerful, experiential project-based learning in computer science, Apps for Good teaches students valuable communication and critical thinking skills that make them more well-rounded and better-prepared for the workplace of the future.”
The rapid growth of the program in the state has fostered increased interest from local companies. There has been a sharp rise in the number of technical professionals who have signed on to serve as Apps for Good Experts, as students move their ideas forward through the pipeline.
Looking forward, we expect more and more middle school teachers to adopt the program to help meet the state’s “Coding Block” requirement. By the end of 8th grade, all students are expected to have completed a minimum of 4-6 weeks of computer science. Apps for Good is a fantastic resource to help these teachers empower their students to solve authentic problems.
The content creators at Apps for Good have just completed a new Internet of Things course that Arkansas schools will have access to soon, and student teams can take a close look at all the ‘things’ powered by code and explore ways they can design their own solutions.
Apps for Good has been an invaluable partner for Coding Arkansas’ Future. Together, we have left an indelible mark on the lives of students across the State and have created a brighter future for them as they advance through their academic career.