App Architects

Student Created Mobile Applications

TLDW Conference 2014

My Story

This past school year in my Gr. 12 ICS4U (Computer Science) class, I took a risk and attempted to embark on a new topic - Mobile Apps. The students used web-based software by MIT that utilizes "block programming" to program and design mobile apps that can instantly be tested on their devices in the classroom, providing immediate feedback. The students utilized their BYOD access and freedom to create apps that impressed.

I would like to share how taking a risk was very satisfying professionally, and how the engagement and ownership from the students provided some excellent results. Six C's of 21st Century Learning were in full effect as the students worked in groups collaborating, in a self-guided app project that found them on CTV News Toronto.

The Risk

Being an Educator we are, or should be used to risk.  We do although start to develop a comfort zone, but in my experience, that's when both in class and professionally, the mood becomes a bit stale.  I have been teaching student for over 10 years how to program, how to become a better programmer, and how to be a sought after commodity in the workplace for both hard and soft skills.  It was time to work on the latter.

The risk was huge!  Well, in my mind at least, I thought I would have to learn two new programming languages to even attempt this, then to test the technology, then would it even be enjoyable to the students??  I had a lot of items on why I should not have attempted rolling out Mobile App Development.  

I thought the timing of doing this in my classroom was great as it embraced the very essence of 21st Century Learning, in fact I could argue that it hit all of what defines it. Character, Citizenship, Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Collaboration are all there and intertwine.   Our PDSB BYOD policy and launch was just in place, and our computer labs were being re-imaged for the new LMS.

These points seemed to give me the nudge that I needed to come out of that comfort zone and into learning with my students.


Computer Science is a great subject.  It involves all areas of schooling.  As an Educator your only limited to the scope in which you want to bring all of the parts together.  The other major factor in my appreciation of this subject is that it provides students that opportunity to create something they're passionate about once the skills have been learned.

Developing Mobile Apps allowed my students to take the project and make it their own.  I ultimately wanted the students to feel that this was an opportunity like I stated above, that they would be proud of.  

They were assigned a simple, open-ended question for the project:  "Build an app that solves a problem or makes easier/more efficient a solution to a problem."

What were the learning goals? The expectations the students had on themselves during the project were what exactly?  We took an entire class speaking about these and broke down the different components that we could potentially see in a final product.  Answering the questions about collaboration with your team members, presenting your project, etc.  

The magic...ownership.  The students just created our assessment pieces.  

Next, the class formed groups of 3-5 students for their new business ventures.  I guided them on entrepreneurial basics like making a mission statement, assignment roles AHEAD of the work, creating a logo/brand, etc.

Then it was off to research and brainstorming of ideas, which again, was done collaboratively in an online environment to come up with the best ideas out of the group. This is where the "creative juices" as I always say start to flow, and are more refined during development.

My teaching style is much like that of a coach, where I watch and listen attentively to my students and when the questions come or the need arises I help students hop over a hurdle with a simple suggestion or even a question to ponder that brings them to deeper thinking. This happens all the time in life, I want my students to problem solve, giving the answer hurts their learning.  This occurred as per usual in Computer Science as we explored App Inventor 2.

The students were assessed by their peers and by their teacher during this project. The peer assessment served as a reality check that this does happen in the workplace, there are consequences for flying solo when you are on a team.  It provided a great way for myself to give more immediate feedback through our LMS (used Edmodo) to each student or the group as a whole.

"Build an app that solves a problem or makes easier/more efficient a solution to a problem."

The Result

The results were indeed amazing. The students were proud of the work that they accomplished in about three weeks and delivered on what their expectations were of themselves showing that they were visible learners and could explain their though processes at various stages of the project.  Our Communications Dept. at the PDSB caught wind of the project and the students received some well deserved airtime on the CTV Toronto News.

All I could say was...


The Tools

MIT App Inventor (Google Account is Required)

System requirements: Note: Internet Explorer is not supported yet. We recommend Chrome or Firefox.

Computer and operating system

  • Macintosh (with Intel processor): Mac OS X 10.5 or higher
  • Windows: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7
  • GNU/Linux: Ubuntu 8 or higher, Debian 5 or higher


  • Mozilla Firefox 3.6 or higher
  • Note: If you are using Firefox with the NoScript extension, you'll need to turn the extension off. See the note on the troubleshooting page.
  • Apple Safari 5.0 or higher
  • Google Chrome 4.0 or higher
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer is not supported

Phone or Tablet (or use the on-screen emulator)

  • Android Operating System 2.3 ("Gingerbread") or higher


Below are some links to getting started learning all about App Inventor 2.  I have also included in the first link the project file (in PDF) that was given out to my students that will show all that was asked of them including the co-created rubrics for the various parts of the project.  I hope that it will provide a good starting position for your students and yourself.