17 Sep 2011, 17:27

App Inventor suitable for younger kids too (and mention of wee project I'm working on)


#“App Inventor suitable for younger kids too (and mention of wee project I’m working on)”

First the wee project. In October I'mkickingoff a small pilot in my kids' Primary School. I'll be "teaching" App Inventor for 30 mins a week to each of 5th and 6th class. The idea is to run it to Christmas and then pause/review to see if it's worth continuing and expanding. Our Parents'Association and the relevant teachers and Head are fully behind it.

The biggest challenge is putting together a curriculum that can get kids of everyability, aptitude and tech-savviness feelingcomfortableand productive on App Inventor. The idea is not to create a bunch of programmers but to encourage creativity in a technology area that is incredibly exciting. This is a rural country school where many kids do not have constant access to computers at home and most will not have played with a smartphone before.

Whilst I had great success playing with AppInventor with our eldest kid, he is atypical in that he lives in a house filled with computers, has his own laptop and smartphone and is very technically savvy. My worry is that I'd try and do too much with the schoolkids over the couple of months. I am very concerned that we leave no-one behind and that everyone benefits from the experiment. Obviously the whole thing will be entirely opt-in so that parents who don't want their kids playing with mobile phones (albeit phones that have no SIMs and initially have Wifidisabled) can opt-out.

So today I sat down with two laptops and two phones with my 7 y/o daughter and 9 y/o son. Both are pretty tech-savvy too but I was hoping their age would balance this and give me a better idea how a 12 y/o non-tech-savvy kid would do. They both found the first tutorial very easy and immediately saw what was possible and what they could change. I thought the blocks editor (the programming bit) would throw them but they completely got the idea of Button.OnClick Sound.Play etc. Their two apps can be seen attached. One plays the Moshi Monsters Lady Goo Goo song, the other plays a Spiderpig remix. I loved the fact that they both immediately went to Google Images and YouTube to find the material they needed (theoriginaltutorial was a cat that went miaow).

I learned some good lessons fromtoday'sexercise. [a] Give no freedom of choice in the initial tutorials i.e. everyone uses the same images/sounds or else it takes forever [b] Test and re-test the phone setup - we had big problems with the phones not auto-updatingthe apps as the kids changed them [c] I need to find a simple way for non-technical kids to understand actions like right-click, save-as etc [d] There may be issues around "why bother do this if I don't have my own phone?"

The curriculum will be based on all the existing tutorial material out there, just tuned for a 10-12 y/o audience. I'll be putting everything up on the PA site (and maybe the code up on Google Code) as I work through it. I'll also post the results of our review at the end. A fixed hour a week during school hours (plus creating the curriculum etc) is a bit of an ask but I really want to do it. Being in a home-office a lot of the time makes it easier. Eventually I hope to do train-the-trainer so the school is not totally reliant on me having a fixed time free ad-infinitum, but for the minute I should be able to do it on my own with the help of the teachers themselves. If you are involved in any voluntary stuff like this, any tips would be appreciated.

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