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Noelene Callaghan

My Blog

My Blog

PBL approach perfect for app development lessons

Posted on 5 October, 2014 at 2:25

As the use of Project Based Learning takes a more substantial position in programs and in teaching and learning ICT in secondary schools, teachers are looking at new ways to deliver content.


Moreover, with imminent changes in the space of technology in the Australian Curriculum, secondary students are now being required to code and develop HTML. A fantastic way to address the teaching and learning of this skill pedagogically is by allowing your students to develop their own app. This activity is not solely limited to the technologies subjects but can be a great learning activity or assessment task for any KLA. All the student requires is an idea for their app.


Why is teaching app development important?


Mobile phones have become as important as our wallets and purses in everyday living, thus development in this area is occurring at a very fast pace. Mobile devices have become a tremendous source of entertainment, communication, and information and also jobs for millions of individuals globally. This is why teaching app development is important and relevant.



What’s a good way to approach teaching app development to high school students?


App and game development is a challenging topic, even for experienced software developers. Devices change rapidly and the technical differences between Apple IOS, Google Android and Microsoft Mobile are immense.


Using a Project Based Learning approach, much of the work that is necessary is done away from the computer. Like any great

project, planning is vital for the success of the app. There are six easy steps that teachers can follow to create a fantastic and engaging lesson when developing apps. It should be noted, that this will require a number of continuous lessons. Actual times are dependent on student ability and available resources of the school.


Step 1 – Project Planning


In all Project Based Learning (PBL) programs, planning is critical. Planning will direct the student and scaffold their level of understanding of the topic, whilst providing them with an approach that is realistic in terms of attaining their overall goals with the app that they will develop in a specific time. Creating a traditional Gantt Chart (using Excel or a Web 2.0 tool) with students is important, in order for them to understand the amount of work that they need to invest into their app. This will enable students to understand the design process as well as appropriately allocate sufficient time to deliver the app by its due date.


It is also recommended that the teacher has played with the app development software so they know each of the stages that are involved (technically) and what is required prior to building the app. For instance, some app development software may offer free versions but are limited as to how many screens the app delivers and the functionality and tools it allows the user to access.


Step 2 – Designing the app


In order to design the app, it is recommended that students have access to apps that are available on Play Store or iOS. Conducting compare and contrast activities will also enable students to understand the type of apps that are available and why each one performs unique tasks. Students can then begin designing the look of their app. This can be done traditionally (using pencil and paper) or using storyboard creators and even Adobe Photoshop. Students should attempt to create the look of every screen that users can use on the app.


Step 3 – Site Map it


Steps 2 and 3 are typically performed synchronously. It is best to design the look of each app screen and then work out where each link will lead to. This will also help the student understand the operation of their own app, whilst providing them with an opportunity to ascertain if their app is too adventurous to complete, time wise. This also provides students with the opportunity to name each of their app screens which will simplify the technical development side.


Step 4 – Creating content (textual)


Although this may appear as an obvious step, creating the text content is often forgotten about or at the bottom of the priority list for students (in comparison to designing the app). Creating the text is also quite difficult for students. It needs to be short, concise and accurate. If the text is directional, the user must be able to understand the instruction easily and quickly. ‘Think, Pair, Share’ and other collaborative activities are a good way to help students develop this. It is also a good idea to allow students to write the text beside links or on their plans/site maps so that they can visualise how the text will appear with background colours and image and video files.


Step 5 – Finding or creating content (images, videos and/or audio)


Regardless of whether students want to create their own imagery, video or audio or find existing resources, both can be a timely exercise. It is imperative to know the file formats that are accepted by the app software that you are intending to use. Should the student opt to seek visual content, they should be aware of copyright and informed that they should seek work that is licenced by Creative Commons (which permits the sharing of files).


Step 6 – Create the app online

There are many softwares available to be used in your school that you can download (some are free and some are paid) for app development. These include TheAppBuilder, Good Barber, AppyPie and GameSalad. The majority are very simple to use and like other Web 2.0 tools, enable the user to create their app in a series of steps.


For those hard-core programmers (and Stage 6 classes), there are many codingspecific websites available. One great resource is Code Academy. Students can learn html, css, javascript and jquery — these are the fundamental components of mobile web sites. Students will be able to leverage these basic skills down the road if they want to seriously study mobile application or game development. Learning these skills and documenting the journey could also act as a fantastic major work where necessary.

Categories: 2014, Education, Pedagogy