App Jam challenges teens to program new mobile gaming apps for Carnegie Science Center
Teens collaborate with design mentors to create Mobile Apps during the App Jam at Carnegie Science Center / photo: Ben Filio
Apps. Have you heard of them? These teens certainly have! High School Students from Quaker Valley, Winchester Thurston, South Fayette and Mars Area School District took part in the “AppJam” at the Carnegie Science Center on March 13, 2013.
Developed by David Nassar and Teresa DeFlitch of Winchester Thurston School, the program allowed these enthusiastic students to design apps based on exhibits in the Carnegie Science Center and Highmark Sports Works. This program was the culminating event for participants in the Mobile App Lab, where high school students developed app making skills throughout the school year. The event was an exciting match up of students from different schools competing to create new ways to experience the Science Center through innovative apps. The high schoolers also enjoyed lunch with expert programmers from companies such as Google, enabling them to ask questions about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) careers as well as app design.
The teens worked in groups to create a poster board presenting their ideas for awesome apps. This helped them to develop team work skills as well as experience the planning that goes into creating and designing apps. Assistants were available throughout the day to work with the students on their displays and to answer any questions. The final products were elaborate and very well planned with original and diverse ideas. For example, one group designed a Robo World app featuring an interactive virtual “Andy the Robot” that could command the real “Andy” at the Science Center. Each group presented their app layout to the rest of the teens and judges awarded prizes, highlighting the best features of the apps.
Most of the schools reported having a STEAM program in their curriculum. A few of the schools, such as Quaker Valley, have basic programming classes, but not a STEAM program. Quaker Valley technology teacher, Karlton Chapman, brought four high school students to the AppJam to introduce them to STEAM programming. Chapman stated that he believes that teens will “continue looking at development with a view to design from this experience.” He also noted that he was quite pleased with the activities provided to the students that day. Although South Fayette has a STEAM program starting with children as young as 3rd grade, teacher Aileen Owens was very impressed with the AppJam program. “It gives the teens the power to make and create and expand their capabilities”. When asked if she would bring her nine students back, Owens said “Yes!! I love it. It’s empowering for students and teachers both to go beyond boundaries.”
Winchester Thurston brought eight of their own students to the program. David Nassar, a teacher at the school, commented “It gives the students an opportunity to work with and talk to [programming experts]. This focuses on the design part, they learned team work and the steps that come before coding.” John Charrey agreed with his co-teacher’s comments and added, “You have to make sure to provide tech opportunities that are current so that the kids will stay interested. Apps are a great way to do this.” Both said that they would like their students to participate in the program again. “It was a cool opportunity, for the educator and the student. It was a different way of teaching, which was interesting for us to see. It allowed to students to get their feet wet in the subject.” Nassar was very enthusiastic in his comments.
The students left with certificates and smiles. This experience provided them with a great introduction to programming. The event allowed them to work with a team, bring a concept to light, present an app prototype and meet with experts in STEAM fields. We can only imagine what these bright students will be able to accomplish with their skills. As Margaret Mead once said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”