Students in my Introduction to Mobile Application Development class at Bryant High School learn to create apps in a variety of tools — GameSalad, App Inventor, Xcode, and Eclipse. More than just programming, their assignments also reinforce teamwork, communication skills, project management, and literacy.
Recently, a pair of ninth grade students were featured on a local television news broadcast for making a mobile application to help a new student to our district who speaks only Korean learn the basic words and phrases he needs to communicate within the context of the American school system.
The assignment first asks students to identify a client — someone with a problem that could be solved through the creation of a mobile application. Next, they must interview the client and draft a problem statement in their own words detailing specifically what the problem is, to be reviewed by the client.
From a pedagogical perspective, engaging students in writing — any writing — builds their literacy skills. Having them write a document that will be read by a real-life external client about an authentic problem often yields more and better writing than something only to be read by the students and the teacher.
Read on to find out how I make the most of this assignment.
After the client reviews the problem statement and the students know they are on the right track, they create a full-fledged proposal including a summary of the problem, a description of their proposed solution, sketches showing the client how they envision the solution to look and operate, a draft rubric that the client could use to score the project, and a timeline listing key milestones and anticipated dates.
The clients then have the opportunity to question, modify, and eventually approve or reject the proposal before the students begin work on this project. The finalized proposal serves as the roadmap to guide the students’ work throughout the project, and a very handy tool for me as the facilitator to use to check up on the group’s progress.
As students work in pairs to develop the applications they have proposed, they run into teachable moments. Some groups work through problems independently. Others prefer to ask around the room until they find someone who can help them. A few students can use the Internet to retrieve the information they need to proceed. Most often, groups need a gentle nudge to get them going again.
I provide these nudges in a variety of ways. Questioning is my first choice. “What do you want it to do when the user clicks that button?” “What is it not doing that you want it to do?” “What have you already tried?” “In this app, do you think TinyDB or TinyWebDB would be a better fit?” Students feel a sense of accomplishment when they discover the answers themselves rather than being handed answers.
For particular skills that require more than simple nudges, I’ll often create videos that students can use as needed to master the skill. When a student needs help with a skill that’s already on my website, I’ll refer the student to that video. If they’ve watched it and still have questions, I’ll spend one-on-one time with them to identify the misconceptions preventing understanding.
At the conclusion of the project, students are required to create a demonstration video of their mobile application which is turned in along with their proposal document, the source code for their app, and the client’s feedback on the app.
Over the years I’ve learned the hard way that grading a classroom set of projects with a lot of components is a chore. Perhaps, impossible if done to the level of detail that I look for. For this project, students get a grade for their problem statement, their proposal, written status updates, their final product, and the demo video they are asked to create. Rather than grading them all at once, I look at each team’s work at every step of the way, giving me a chance to correct those headed off course more quickly and minimizing the avalanche of grading required at the conclusion of the project.
Here are a copule of the resources I created for this assignment. Feel free to use them in your own classroom.