We had the privilege to host Karen Lang, Business and Education Development Manager for MIT App Inventor, MIT, Boston. Two workshops, one in Wairarapa and the other in Wellington were held over consecutive days for teacher professional development. The sessions were focused on getting the basics in using MIT App Inventor in the classroom, setting up testing devices and programming simple apps like a piano. The sessions were spaced with learning about the software, the success of the program and making apps which was welcomed by the teachers.
MIT App Inventor was the brainchild of Hal Abelson, Lecturer at MIT, who built the software while interning at Google. After Google made it Open Source, Hal continued work on the software while at MIT. Currently there is a team of 7 who continue work on the software.
The software is web-based and runs of a chromebook if needed. The block based engine comes off blockly with a few more extensions ( discussed later). The testing can be done via an Emulator (which has been upgraded over the last few years) , USB connection to computer or QR code ( active for 2 hours). For the code to run on your device (Android) you need the MIT App Inventor Companion app which is a free download on the play store. The Apple version is not yet live and there are plans to release it soon.
Karen Lang was amazing in her delivery of the workshop. The teachers started made a simple app within 15 mins of using the software and were able to test it with relative ease (few things to note about setting up, mentioned below). The software comes with an amazing collection of resources with basic tutorials here: https://appinventor.mit.edu/explore/ai2/tutorials and a special space for teachers: https://appinventor.mit.edu/explore/teach which has links to curriculum (CSTA) , teacher discussion forum, new content (AI in App Inventor) and other details. Documentation to the software is all located here: https://appinventor.mit.edu/explore/library
We started looking at the CoolThink Middle school curriculum and I thought that it would suit our Year 7 – 10 students perfectly without having to change much. The unit has 10 apps and will easily take a term or more to complete going from basics through to advanced apps. Being very relevant to current trends like using Maps feature, Music and Art, and Messaging apps, this ‘unit of work’ is ready to be used for classrooms. All units are free to share: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1heQbFaKv9IpvfhpsMVSYgUziBH_nWcy3
The learning curve is not high. Students, having been introduced to coding via HourOfCode would have already come across the interface. If you are learning coding for the first time, this is a good way to learn and see your code across another device. Then you also have the extensions like LEGO EV3 and Arduino. You could get students creating apps interfacing with such hardware to see practical applications of App Making. There is also detailed documentation should you want to make your own extension (uses Java) : http://ai2.appinventor.mit.edu/reference/other/extensions.html
Setting up (ease of use) – Setting up requires the device that you are programming on, and the android device that you are testing on, be on the same wifi network. Sometimes, (secure) school networks do not allow this. You need to contact your IT administrator, and make changes to the firewall as needed. Its not hard, just something that you have to do once before starting. Alternatively, you can just use the emulator or USB connector cable.
Sourcing Android phones is very easy. You can get even fairly old (well they feel old now, but not really) phones like the Samsung S5 (if you remember that model) onwards to run the companion app. Crowd source the phones by putting out a notice in your school newsletter, asking parents to donate their old phones that probably sitting in their drawers since they upgraded. I got about 10 that way!
Lastly, there is the MIT App Inventor Master Trainer program should you want to upskill as a trainer in the software. You need to do an online (free) course and then do an in person course at MIT (which is not held this year but will be back next year). The online free course is https://www.edx.org/course/mobile-computing-with-app-inventor-cs-principles-2 and takes a few weeks to do it at your own pace. Its well worth it!
Let me know your thoughts if you have used this software in your classroom.