TLDR; Build an app, or not. Learn some skills. Empower some learners. Be awesome.
I was just at a tech conference and despite our best efforts to stay on a lofty conceptual level when talking about EdTech, some of the best attended sessions were when an app was being showcased. In fact, after his session, one of my teacher-tech friends leaned over and said, “Today, I discovered apps are like crack for teachers…”
This may be true because as a digital learning coach what I often hear is:
Is there an app for that?
Probably, but despite being superfly, I don’t want to be your pusher, man.
What I really want to do is empower the learners around me to be able to take their ideas and make them reality. One way is to enable teachers and students to create and curate the content that they interact with.
For instance: do you want an app based on a story created by IB International teachers; aligns with IB Learner Profile and teaches values, mindfulness and empathy while empowering kids to solve problems independently and while playing fun games? Do you want a story that kids can’t put down because every page has interactive animations, which makes the narrative come to life? Me too!
Well, lucky for you there is an app for that. Because two PYP teachers made it!
And you can too, more importantly, so can your learners.
Here are ED-ucations 10 steps for creating an app, as a teacher or as a teacher supporting students:
Step 1: Define Your Goal
Step 2: Research
Use the most powerful tool we have, and Google the app out of your app idea. Start following similar developers or products on Twitter, reach out to people who may have product that you like or use. Start conversations. Ask questions. Don’t be embarrassed by what you think you don’t know. Be fearless in your inquiry because this initial research has four main purposes:
Step 3: Get your community on-board (including parents and leadership)
Step 4: Storyboard the narrative
Jeff and I know, if you don’t have a path- you get lost pretty quick. You don’t have to stick to the path all the time, but you have to have a good idea of where you are going. This is where your storyboard comes in. Jeff and I needed a complicated storyline that would continue over 10 books and so we created a ongoing map for the entire 10 Learner Profiles, weaving each attribute through the plot. It was a long process, but we needed to think like teachers; how would we get kids to think, how would the story flow, and what Easter eggs of grown-up humor would we throw in so that even parents or teachers would enjoy the read?
Step 5: Start Sketching the app
Step 6: Create a Wireframe
Wireframing is the process of creating a mockup or prototype of your app. Without a developer this is difficult, however there are a few paid app creation tools that you can try out with your learners. Click on the images to access the tools.
Step 7: Define the Back End of Your Mobile App
Your wireframes and storyboard now become the foundation of your back-end structure. Draw a sketch of your servers, APIs, and data diagrams. Not sure about this? Go back to that the research step- as a teacher go talk to your tech team ask them about what would be needed to run your app at your school. Get them to draw it for you. Still lacking a developer AND your school has no tech team? No worries, skip to un-step 11.
Step 8: Start talking
Once your app has been defined pretty clearly, it is time to get started on the back end of your system. Jeff and I realized we lacked the tech skill for the back end of our project so we began to make relationships with other app developers who may be interested in our content. We forged those partnerships based on shared vision and an ethos of learning. We found a wonderful developer PonyApp that focused on Character education through fairy tales, and thought- why not? The developer will have to set up servers, databases, APIs, and storage solutions. This is out of your control, and this is where a good relationship of trust needs to be in place. BE FOREWARNED… this may take many, many months.
Step 9: Test Your Prototype
So now you have an app-like creature you have collaboratively created. Revert to your wireframe and ask friends, family, colleagues, and experts to help you review your prototype. Be shameless in asking for advice, ideas, get teachers, leadership, parents to play with the app and test it. Be unafraid to take their advice.
Step 10: Release Time!
UnStep Step 11: DeApp the App!
So you can't find a developer and still want to prototype without the fuss of learning an app to make an app. Learning is still happening without the tech. Think about the skills kids need to research, write, gamify, wireframe and connect with experts to help them- this is truly project based learning at it’s finest. Encourage and coach students to get to a point where they are totally unable to move forward (and you can no longer help them either) then simply ask: “So, what next?”
Give students access to social media, devices and experts and see what happens. Allow your students to amaze you. Even if they simply create a proposal for a developer to create their app, the enriched systems-thinking and problem solving they engaged in throughout the process is incredible learning in action.
Don't get stuck thinking that the product is the most important part of app development. Be sure to embrace failure! Most importantly, have fun on your learning journey.