Downtown Students Design Apps that Help Organize Their Lives
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
OCTOBER 7, 2019 – Feeding the dog. Washing dishes. Doing laundry. Making your bed. Cleaning your room.
The list of household chores for students is long, and keeping up with it all can be a challenge.
“It’s a problem we all have,” said Allison MacLean, who is in the eighth-grade at The Downtown School.
“Some of us forget to do our chores when our parents want us to.”
Allison’s friends Myla Lyles and Tania Little are among the Downtown students who have the same problem. So, when their computer-science teacher – Victoria Ferrell – challenged the eighth-graders in her computer-science class to form teams and work together to design an app that would help solve a real-world problem, they knew just what they wanted to create – an app called Chore-Minder.
When it’s done, Chore-Minder will remind them of forgotten chores, enable them to show their parents photos documenting chores they did take care of, and much more.
“A lot of people our age have this problem in common,” Tania said.
Getting chores done can definitely be a problem, Myla said. “I know this for a fact.”
Myla also knows that getting them done makes her feel better.
For Tania, her chores during the school week not only include washing dishes and doing laundry but also making sure she goes to bed on time and gets up in time to get ready for school.
For Allison, Chore-Minder will help her and her older brother keep track of who is responsible for what on any given day.
On Thursday, Oct. 3, the students in Ferrell’s classroom were hard at work on their apps. Some were sitting at computers working out details of their design. Others were sitting at tables creating illustrations of their plans.
Making all this creative learning possible was a grant from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction that enabled Ferrell and other teachers in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system to take the training necessary to give them the expertise to help their students with these and other computer-science challenges.
“This is an amazing opportunity for the kids here at our school,” Ferrell said. “Every student has the opportunity to be introduced to computer science.”
With this particular project, she likes having “the opportunity to connect real-world experiences with students as they learn the computer-science curriculum.”
In the months to come, WS/FC students have even more opportunities, thanks to a new grant from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The $80,000 grant is designed “to provide opportunities for North Carolina students to learn computer science, coding and mobile app development to help them gain the skills needed to: (1) create and contribute, not just use and consume, in the digital economy; and (2) actively engage as informed citizens in our complex, technology-driven world.”
The WS/FCS application for the new grant was called “Computer Science Recast” for a program designed “to build on the Coding and Mobile App programs in middle schools and to bridge the gap to high school with the new Computer Science Principles courses.”
Twelve teachers from six high schools – Carver, East Forsyth, Walkertown, Reagan, Mount Tabor, West Forsyth – will be working with rising ninth-graders in Career Technical Education (CTE) programs.
“The new grant will fund a summer camp for rising ninth-graders to continue their interest in computer science,” said CTE Executive Director Shirley Bynum.
“The current grant will cover training for high school teachers in preparation for two new high school computer science principles courses.”
“The grant further expands opportunities in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to prepare students to be actively engaged in the education process and paves the road for them to become productive citizens in a technology-driven world.
“Students in the coding program are developing critical-thinking and problem-solving skills while learning to work collaboratively with their peers. Enhanced student engagement with computer science will increase the likelihood that students will graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education/training for future advancement in the computer science field.”
Allison, Myla and Tania said that they have been enjoying working together, in part because they discovered they all had similar ideas about how to approach creating their app.
A number of other students also chose to create an app that helps them with planning and scheduling, Ferrell said. Other apps include ones that focus on creating and maintaining a family budget, ones that help people save money, and ones that help others, such as raising money for a food bank.
Another team in the class – Jameel Riddick and Cameron Wilson – was working on an app they were calling PlanWorks.
“Both of us have problems with time management,” Cameron said.
Left to their own devices, Jameel said, it’s easy to get lost in watching television or playing a video game. This will help them remember the other things they need to be doing.
“It has reminders,” Jameel said. “It will buzz or beep to tell you to do that.”
Working together on their app, they discovered a natural division of labor. Jameel has been focusing on the look of the device and the other design elements, and Cameron has been focusing on the computer programming making it all work.
In the class before this one, three students – Isabelle Vargas, Alex Nunley, and K’Dence Martin – were working on an app they had named Dooduloo.
It was designed to help them plan their day. With lots of homework and other responsibilities in their day, would help them make sure they got everything done.
Principal Andy Lester-Niles said that, when it comes to developing skills for the 21st century, learning how to design apps fits right in.
It’s great that the students are able to learn those skills in middle school, and the exposure enables them to get a sense of whether this is a career path that they might find satisfying.
Ferrell teaches such CTE classes as business and computer science and also serves as the Technology Facilitator for The Downtown School. She grew up here, graduated from North Forsyth High School, and has been teaching at The Downtown School for 20 years.
“I love what do,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”
“I really enjoy this age because they are still excited about learning new things and can understand things at a higher level. The great thing about this course is it’s a highly collaborative and interactive discovery course.”