Build your own educational app, a look into the future of education

Can you develop an educational app in twenty four hours? That was the challenge about twenty teachers took on during the Appathon in London. Prior to the Appathon, they attended three virtual universities to get to know the TouchDevelop programming platform and thought up an educational app.

During the twenty four hours programming marathon they created their app. I was attending as the “white rabbit” in the group. As a total newbie in the field of programming, it was going to be interesting what I would manage to create in that short period.

My fellow teachers had very different backgrounds. From primary education teachers with no programming background what so ever to experienced IT-teachers who teach programming to their students. But all of us had one thing in common: we’re passionate to have our educational idea come to life. Sometimes by trial and error, and in my case mostly by error. From early on it was clear that the challenges I faced to develop my app were bigger than I could handle. Fortunately that was not the case for the other teachers that kept on programming until very late in the night.

As my best efforts to try to program had failed, I had more time to reflect on the idea of “programming for kids”. Why should we teach kids how to program? Should it be on the menu for every child even if only a small percentage of them will be app developers? But then again, we have been teaching them about photosynthesis works for years, even though only few of them become a biologist. Maybe it’s time to reflect on what can be considered basic knowledge for this generation. They need the knowledge of today, not the knowledge of when we were their age.

Because technology is everywhere today. “The Internet of things” is not science fiction. I can use my smartphone to schedule my TV to record a show wherever I am. But it doesn’t end there. In the next years our heating, the camera next to our front door and even our fridges will be controlled over the internet. Where will we be in five or ten years? That little computer in our pocket connects us with more and more things. Imagine the possibilities if you can adjust it and personalize it for your own needs.

Creating apps can also be a great approach to discuss media literacy and e-safety. Taking those first steps in app development made me realize that there’s always a person behind an app. It made me think of how much personal information I’ve entered in apps without knowing whether the developer is reading along. Experiencing how relatively easy it is to program an app, is a wake-up call for all of us who entered our email address and it’s password without knowing who we’re trusting it to.

After a short night all the teachers had the chance to present their results. And they were simply amazing. From a puzzle game that looked really addictive, to a detailed electricity board where you can try out electrical schematics without the fear of being electrocuted. And I know the kids will like the educational games to help improve their writing or math skills. I was very impressed with my colleagues and I’m looking forward to the day that their apps pop up in the Windows Store. As for me… I still hope that someone will use my idea and develops it as an app that I can use with the children in my school.

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