Pilot Program Inspires Students to Design Mobile Apps

Courtney Williams's picture
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

About 200 students attending National Academy Foundation (NAF) schools, which offer industry-focused curricula in urban public school districts, have been designing their own mobile applications during the spring semester thanks to a partnership between NAF and Lenovo and with cooperation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This partnership is teaching students the skills needed to flourish in the ever-expanding mobile app market after high school.

Lenovo donated high-powered All-in-One PC desktops and ThinkPad tablets to five schools, including Apex High School’s Academy of Information Technology in Apex, N.C., Pathways to Technology Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles, Grover Cleveland High School in New York City, and A.J. Moore Academy of Information and Technology in Waco, Texas. Students used IBM’s Eclipse programming software to develop their apps.

Working in groups of five, high school students in the 12-week after-school pilot program had to produce three components for their culminating project: a business plan, a working mobile app, and a strategy to bring the app to the Android market.

“This exciting program engages students via the technology and apps they use every day, and by partnering with NAF and MIT, we’re delivering a rigorous and relevant curriculum that will help create our next generation of developers and entrepreneurs,” says Michael Schmedlen, director of worldwide education at Lenovo.

According to JD Hoye, president of NAF, some students are developing apps to teach theoretical concepts. Some groups are trying to figure out how to teach abstract concepts in math and science by using multimodal strategies such as audio or touch.

Mike Newman, founder of the Mobile Development Institute—a nonprofit organization dedicated to quality education for mobile technology platforms—says inquiries from vocational high schools and community colleges have increased immensely for computer programming and mobile development courses, but they likely won’t be part of the core public school curriculum anytime soon. “There is a shortage of students pursuing careers in STEM, but partnerships like Lenovo and NAF can get students excited and better prepare them for careers in fields such as computer science, which is critical to the booming mobile technology industry,” says Newman.

Lenovo, MIT and NAF are currently analyzing data collected during the pilot to determine whether they will expand the curriculum next year.