Student app development is on the rise, and ed-tech companies have tapped into this trend by launching programs that teach kids how to build their own apps

With mobile apps soaring in popularity, companies such as Crescerance and Treehouse have created programs that help teach kids how to build their own apps.

Each month, tens of thousands of mobile apps are added to the app stores for Apple iOS, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows 8—and a growing number of these are from K-12 students.

There’s an app from fifth-grader Danielle that teaches users how to create intricate Rainbow Loom designs, for instance—which had been downloaded more than 20,000 times as of press time.

There’s an app from a student named Kennedy that teaches visitors to France some basic words and phrases to know, as well as facts about France and where to visit. And there’s an app from a student named Ryan that offers fashion advice and lets users share photos of outfits they like with their friends.

With mobile apps soaring in popularity, companies such as Crescerance and Treehouse have created educational programs that help teach kids how to design and build their own apps.

These programs engage students by tapping into their powerful connection with smart devices—and they could help inspire the next generation of software developers as well.

From consumers to creators of technology

Kevin Reiman, superintendent of the Auburn Public Schools in Nebraska, said his district had worked with Crescerance—a Georgia-based company that develops customized apps for schools and other organizations—to create a mobile app for the district.

When Reiman learned that Crescerance was offering a new program to teach students how to develop apps, “this spoke to me,” he said.

Auburn is a small district of about 900 students in southeastern Nebraska. About half of its students live in poverty—but even among these students, “most of them have a smart phone,” Reiman said. “They might not have a computer at home, but they have a mobile device.”

(Next page: How Auburn students are learning app development—and how they have benefited as a result)

Through its MAD-Learn program, Crescerance brought a team of app developers to Auburn for a Saturday event called a MAD-Camp, in which students in grades four and older learned how to create their own apps.

Students came up with their own concept for a mobile app, then used mind maps to brainstorm all the features they wanted their app to include. With a unique online app development platform from Crescerance that is powered by a simple, drag-and-drop interface, the students then built their apps.

Fifteen Auburn teachers also took part in the MAD-Camp, and now they’re integrating mobile app development into their curriculum, Reiman said.

For instance, rather than having students write a report about the ferocious animals they were studying, some middle school teachers had their students build an app about these creatures instead.

“The kids worked hard and had fun,” Reiman said. “If they had just done a report, I’m not sure they would have put that same amount of time into it.”

Although today’s generation of students are tech-savvy, “they’re still largely consumers of technology instead of creators of technology,” said Alefiya Bhatia, CEO of Crescerance.

She said the company created its MAD-Learn program to bring app development into the classroom.

The program includes various components that are priced by volume. Auburn pays about $25 per student, per year, to license the company’s mobile app development platform, while the on-site MAD-Camp event was a separate charge.

Crescerance also helps students get their apps published to the Apple, Google, and Microsoft app stores, and Auburn asks parents to pay this additional fee.

Crescerance calls its student app developers “MAD-Scouts,” and it was through the company’s MAD-Learn program that Danielle, Kennedy, and Ryan published their apps.

(Next page: What’s next for Auburn’s app development program—and how a company called Treehouse is teaching app development, too)

Reiman said some of his students are building apps for local businesses, such as an app for the local movie theater that displays show times. “There is a community outreach aspect to this as well,” he said. “I see [the program] continuing to grow.”

The next step could be teaching students the actual coding behind their apps, he said—and Crescerance “has the tools to teach this as well.”

Giving students an edge

At Hunters Lane High School in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, students are learning how to create mobile apps through a partnership with nearby Griffin Technology.

Griffin, a maker of cases, cables, and other accessories for smart phones and tablets, has purchased a monthly subscription for Hunters Lane students to the iOS programming curriculum from Treehouse Island of Orlando, Fla.

The online, video-based curriculum allows students to learn at their own pace, said programming teacher Ashley Ross.

Students’ initial project was to create a “Magic Eight-Ball” app, in which users ask a question, shake their phone, and receive a random answer such as: “Signs point to yes.” In completing the project, students learned the actual coding to build the app.

Seeing the results come together so quickly “helped them want to do it,” Ross said. “That was great for them.”

Ross said she plans to have students develop their own music app next year.

Students “use apps every day,” she said. “To … actually know how to create an app gives them an edge” in planning for their future.

Follow Editorial Director Dennis Pierce on Twitter: @eSN_Dennis.

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