What's App-ening in a Middle School IEC Class

A new app design class for sixth and seventh graders, led by innovation and entrepreneurship teacher Rae Johnson ’11, is giving budding programmers their first foray into block coding.

“I am excited by how students have taken to the challenges this course has thrown at them,” Johnson said. “Block coding is a unique activity because it engages different skills that students are bringing from their other core subjects.”

According to Johnson, students who are drawn to art “can spend hours customizing the look of their app's user interface,” and those who enjoy logic and mathematics “can push the skills introduced in the text to their limits and test the results of their experiments in real-time.” 

Throughout the semester, students have been learning the basics of block coding through a series of design challenges with the help of MIT App Inventor, a browser-based coding tool. “My hope is that students are learning through each project how mobile apps have been and can be used to help people live more informed and healthy lives,” Johnson said.

App design challenges have included a “pong”-style game, an interactive puzzle, a charades game, and one that records and saves data about an infectious disease. For their last assignment, students could build an app of any type to demonstrate the skills they have been learning. 

For his final project, Kenneth Kweku ’27 developed an app that could “randomly generate countries in the world and add up some of the information about them and create a huge civilization” that combined the countries’ populations, economies and land mass. 

Valentina Valdivia ’27 turned to her favorite book series, “Keeper of The Lost Cities” by Shannon Messenger, for inspiration. “I decided to do a character game. A picture of one out of 12 characters would appear on the screen. Using a list picker, you would choose the correct character. If you guess right, you get a point. If you don't, then a point is deducted.”

Johnson is impressed with the students’ work. “The enthusiasm that students are pouring into these projects tells me that they have absorbed the design philosophy that the course was meant to inspire. I hope they will continue to develop these projects over time or use their skills to create programs they could use in their daily lives.”

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