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An Update on Apps for Good in Arkansas

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.

Apps for Good in Arkansas

More than 80 students from schools across Arkansas will showcase mobile apps they created in their computer science classes at the Apps for Good Festival at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on this Friday.  Governor Asa Hutchinson will address the group, and industry representatives will try out the student prototypes.

Apps for Good is a United Kingdom-based education technology charity working to power a generation to change their world with technology. The organization works alongside educators to develop a free, flexible course framework that infuses digital learning with teamwork, creativity and entrepreneurship.

Students find a problem they want to solve and apply new skills to make a real-life app, exploring the full product development cycle from concept to coding to launch.

The participants include students from Bryant High School, Cross County High School, Dardanelle High School, Greenwood High School, Lake Hamilton Junior High School, Pulaski County Special School District, Searcy High School, White County Central School, and the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts (ASMSA).

Instructors from most of these districts are working in tandem with Daniel Moix, ASMSA’s computer science education specialist, to offer the Essentials of Computer Programming Plus course on-site at their respective schools this year through the Coding Arkansas’ Future teacher mentoring program. In the future, those faculty members will teach the course on their own.

Next year, ASMSA has plans to partner with more than thirty districts to offer two new courses, Computer Science I and Computer Science II, using the same blended professional development approach.  In addition, a pilot cohort will be testing out an Advanced Placement Computer Science A offering, giving students who want to continue their study of computer science a pathway forward.

“We want students to shift from being consumers of content and to become empowered as producers. We want to go from thinking about what can I buy in the app store to what can I put in the app store,” Moix said.

This festival is an opportunity for each of the teams to celebrate their work. “By design, this is not a competition. It’s purely festive. We want them to be proud of their accomplishments for this year,” Moix said.

Representatives from local technology companies including Apptegy, First Orion/PrivacyStar, and Metova, Inc. also plan to attend.  “The skills that these young people are developing and demonstrating are exactly those that are increasingly in demand,” said Allison Nicholas of First Orion.

Debbie Forster, Apps for Good Co CEO, will join the festival from London via Skype, as will Robert Schukai, head of applied innovation at Thomson Reuters.

“We’d like to offer our congratulations to all of the student teams taking part in the Apps for Good Festival in Arkansas,” Forster said. “The students and their teachers have impressed us with their enthusiasm.”

“At Apps for Good, we want to change technology education forever — to turn young tech consumers into tech creators and prepare them to tackle the 21st century workplace. Our course teaches not only digital skills, but also arms students with essential real-world skills such as teamwork, problem solving, confidence and resilience. We’re excited to see what the students have come up with and can’t wait to see Apps for Good grow in the U.S. Arkansas has offered us a great start to our work here.”

This is the second year Apps for Good has been held in Arkansas as a pilot program for the United States. Moix worked with Forster to introduce the program to a group of Arkansas schools resulting in the first U.S.-based Apps for Good festival in Spring 2016. It was held at ASMSA.

“Over the last five years, Apps for Good has grown in the U.K. from supporting a handful of schools and students to more than 1,100 educational institutions and more than 75,000 students in 2016,” Schukai said.  “With this base firmly established, we are thrilled at Thomson Reuters to be partnering with Apps for Good as it starts to expand internationally.”

This year’s festival will be held in the UALR College of Engineering and Information Technology Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students will give elevator pitches, hands-on demonstrations, presentations and will display posters and backboards for their projects.

 

Arkansas educators interested in offering Apps for Good in their schools should register here to receive more information.