7 Strategies I Use When Students Make Apps (or Do Any Genius Projects)

Vicki Davis on episode 307 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

I’m so excited! This is the time of year we are making apps. Now, while I’m talking about making apps in today’s show, this will actually apply to passion projects, to making movies, any type of long-term project where you have the students brainstorm and create.

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Because these seven principles that I’m going to give you apply to any type of project, where you have kids ideate, create projects, and work together in teams.

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Now I do want to give a shoutout to my friends at MAD-learn. We used their app platform — and no, they did not pay me to say that — I just love their platform, and that’s what we used to make our apps.

So the first thing is idea generation. It’s also called ideation.

Strategy 1: Idea Generation, AKA Ideation

This is really the most important part, because it’s setting you up for whether you’re going to succeed or not in your project.

If you’re going to have team problems, this is when you’re going to see them. You really have to observe the groups and make sure they’re working well together.

You also want to push kids to do things that they’re passionate about doing.

For example, in this app project that I’m working on now, I had one group of kids that was going to make a Dog Dictionary, about all of the different types of dogs that were out there and that sort of thing.

I wasn’t entirely happy with it, but I never usually say, “No,” directly, unless it’s going to endanger somebody or something like that.

I do a red light – yellow light – green light process which means, “Well, you’re about get the red light if you keep doing that.” Or I’ll say, “Right now, you’re in yellow light, but this is what you need to do to get to green light.“ Green light obviously means that you’re going ahead into production.

This is a term even used in Hollywood from what I understand, although I’ve never been really involved in movie making in that way.

So they need to have lots of ideas. They need to connect. I try not to intervene.

For example, I have a boy who came and said, “Ms. Vicki, I want you to red light my group. I don’t think it’s going to work, and I don’t want them mad at me.”

And I’m like, “OK, why can’t you just have this conversation with them?”

“Well, I just want you to handle it for me.”

And I said, “Well…” and we talked about it for 10-15 minutes, and he said, “Well, you’re not going to intervene.”

And I said, “No, here’s the thing. I’m not just teaching about apps here. We’re actually teaching about how to collaborate, how to work together. And part of life is having difficult conversations with folks. And I do agree with you, but I’m not entirely sure that me red lighting it is the right thing to do.”

Certainly, there is a time for me to be the bad guy, but this wasn’t one, because this particular student is very gifted, but also needs to learn to work with others. So I did not red light it, and they were moving ahead. Dog Dictionary was going to be it.

And I turn around, and this young man had a conversation with his team that he thought, “Well, you know what? This is probably not going to make it, and I think that there are other apps out there that are too much like this. Maybe we should go to other teams that might be more successful.”

Well, all of them decided to red light their own app, and they split into three different teams. Now, this was the perfect outcome, but it was a perfect outcome because THEY decided it. They made the decision, and it was what they wanted to do.

I felt great about it.

So idea generation is so important. You want to come up with lots of ideas, you want to push them, help them do that.

So then the second thing is I like students to go in after they’ve kind of come up with their idea. I create a template or a hyperdoc in Google Doc. They’ll turn around and make a copy of that, and it has everything they need to fill in.

Complete the Google Doc

Now I have constraints here, so for example, they have to start with a 50-word description of their app. They have to keep it to 50 words because if they were going to have their app in the App Store, that’s pretty much how many words it would be.

And I want them to make it compelling, and about why we need this app. And they have to collaborate.

So I’m actually looking at the revision history. So I see which kids are coming into class, I’ll pull up the four or five Google Docs for all those kids. I’ll go through them and look at the revision history, and I’ll say, “Hey, I only see one person editing on your Doc today. What’s going on?”

And then we have the conversation. You should see their eyebrows come up when they realize that they’re not collaborating. Part of the requirement to get a green light is that they have to have a good working collaborative team. Because if you don’t have a collaborative team, you’re not going to have a good project.

Now the important thing is to realize that these projects are bigger than one person can do by themselves, and this is why I love having massive projects that are too big for one student to do by themselves.

You want students to work in teams. No one person can run a Fortune 500 company by themselves, and we want kids to know how to work in groups like this. We sketch things out.

Also in this document, have them do research before they can create their app and get the green light. They’ve got to prove to me that this app is needed, that they’ve done their research. They’ve got their out to hyperlink to that.

I actually require every single student to put in three items of research in the document. Well, I could do this collaboratively, but if I have every student having to research, I make sure that all the students know how to hyperlink but also that they can effectively research and they know how to do that as well.

So this is when I kind of giving them a test. I have five big pieces. It takes 2-3 days. They’re not going to get the green light unless they move through this document and unless I see that they’re working effectively together.

Now in this document, they also have to come up with fifty ideas for their app names! Well, you could think, “Oh my goodness, why would you do that?”

Well, I have found the best app names typically come somewhere between number seven and number twenty-one-ish. Kids are so worried about looking cool that you have to push them past the cool factor, because honestly, if you’re afraid of looking uncool, you’re afraid of coming up with good ideas.

A lot of times what will happen is, the kids run out of ideas, and finally, the cool thing becomes just throwing out ideas. They’ll laugh, and they’ll have dumb ideas. Right in the middle will be some incredible ideas. You want to teach kids how to brainstorm. You have to accept all the ideas, throw them into the document, and then decide what’s the best.

We had a long conversation about what makes a great app name. We have to discuss SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and having a name that can be found on the App Store. Also, alliteration! We like things — like Dog Dictionary — that have the same first initial.

We also like things that rhyme. We have this one app called the “Swole Patrol” and that’s an app that’s about exercises by teens for teens. That’s a great one. They had another name that was just not so good.

So again, don’t look for these on the App Store yet, because they’re not there. They’re just ideas that the kids are working on. But that’s kind of what we do.

Now, the third piece of this is that you want kids to have jobs. So we have PMs (Project Managers), APMs (Assistant Project Managers), and then Graphic Designers. Sometimes we’ll have Marketers doing something with social media. We’ll usually have an Editor. This is important because in apps, you want to give credit.

#2: Assign roles

But the thing that I always tell the students is that you may get the title, but to keep it, you have to earn it. So they can give each other all the titles they want. And sometimes they’ll propose titles, and they’ll say, “OK, I want this person to do the app trailer.”

OK, I’m fine with that. Thye can be the director of the app trailer, but if somebody steps in and does their job for them, they will lose that title. In the real world, you have to do the job.

They are able to list these on their transcript for the school, so it’s kind of awesome for the kids to say, “I was the PM or the APM of a particular job.” And they learn so much when they have that.

And it’s also easier for me, because you know, at the beginning of class, I’ll say, “I need to meet with all the PMs and APMs at my desk.”

I’ll kind of just tell them where everybody needs to be, and then they’ll go out and handle their teams. I’ll just turn around and I’m kind of like the CEO or the head coach, just trying to coach all these teams to move forward. I really want them to be leaders in their own groups.

#3 Stages of App Development

Now, there are also phases of development. So, as I said, there’s the red light, the yellow light, and the green light.

Red light means we have stopped production. Typically, the kids will red light themselves. It is very rare that I have to red light them.

Yellow light means that you can proceed, but you have to fix this, this, and this before you get a green light.

And the green light means you can go ahead to the next stage of production.

Well, the first stage is to get past the Google Doc, and then you have to get past me, and then I give you a green light. Then you go into App Development.

So then they’ll go in and they’ll do their site map, and they’re also going to get their basic theme, layout, and that sort of thing in the MAD-learn platform, to kind of show what the app will look like and do basic development.

#4: Presentation for an Authentic Audience

Then, they have to make a foam board with their graphics and they go in front of the principal and the curriculum director and typically another teacher. They’re having to present. They’re having to sell their app. They’re also having to show the app design and convince those that they can move forward.

At this point, I will usually have a limited number that can move forward. They’ll have to meet certain criteria. Think of it like a drivers test. You’re in the state of Georgia, and you have to make a 75% to pass your drivers test. That number seems a little low to me, but there you go. So I’ll have a rubric, and you have to make a certain number of points on those rubrics to get the green light to go ahead to Phase Two.

That’s typically how I do it, which means about 25% of the apps are probably going to drop out of the competition just because they don’t have enough points to be able to be green-lighted to the next phase.

Then, the last phase is we actually have, in front of the whole school and a judging panel, to determine which app is going to go on the App Store. And you could say, “Well, why do you want to do that?”

#5: Competing for Limited Resources

Well, that’s my fifth point. It’s OK to compete for limited resources. Sometimes when you have a movie, or when you have an app, or when you have just about anything that you produce that costs money… It costs money, and you have a limited amount of money.

So we have enough money, pretty much, to put one app on the store. Somebody in the audience might decide to fund another app. That’s happened before. But at this time, typically, it’s just one app.

So they’re competing to see which one is the best app and which one’s going to go live on the App Store. And it’s perfectly OK to do that. That is the real world, and that is how it goes.

We’ve had quite a few apps. One’s called iCare, DroneZone, one’s called unCut. There’s a lot of apps, and you can look at the MadStore, which is kind of like a staging area for apps before they go live on the official Apple Store or the Google Play Store, those places. You can see a lot of student apps in there in the staging area of the MAD-store.

#6: Copyright

So the sixth thing is copyright. Now, this is one of the hardest things. The kids who wanted to do the dog app that we talked about earlier. I really think that they thought it would be pretty easy because they could just copy and paste information.

You can’t do that when you’re making an app. You can’t just take music when you’re making a movie! Kids just think that they can just take whatever they want, and that’s not the way the world works.

We’ve really got keep a handle on that copyright. What I typically do is… I will pull up the platform and copy-paste some pieces of it into Grammarly, and I have Grammarly Pro, which will do a Plagiarism Check. It will tell me pretty quickly if we have a plagiarism problem. Then they could end up with a red light.

Now you could ask, “What happens if somebody ends up in a red light?”

Well, we have the drafts — so if you can think of the NFL draft — we sit down and we figure out those who don’t have a team. The Project Managers that are left will just kind of draft those folks.

Now sometimes, there are behind the scenes negotiations that go on.

People notice there’s somebody who’s really great at graphic design on the other team, and they’ll want them on theirs. There may be some conversations, some trading. There are things that happen behind the scenes. But everybody ends up with a team, to work on a team in the final competition.

So you have app teams getting larger and larger, getting more and more done. Everybody has to create a certain number of pages. You can end up with an app with a good 30-40 screens which is a well-developed, very strong app by the end.

The draft is interesting. I always tell students, “If your team got red-lighted, would you want to be the last one drafted?”

Now they’ll never know because the draft happens with PMs and APMs, privately in my room with the door closed. But the draft is actually very exciting, and it teaches kids so much about the kind of folks that people want on their team. They want people that are easy to work with. They want people who pull their weight. They want people who will bring something to the team.

It’s just a fantastic experience to do that.

And then the last piece of this is number seven. Students need to develop collateral materials that go with whatever their project is.

#7: Development of Collateral Materials

So while students are creating apps, I have them create a website. They’ll have an app trailer. They’ll typically create a Twitter, Instagram, social media type platforms to go with it. So that it’s a full offering. It’s a full product they’ve really thought through. Those are really parts of what they show to the final Shark Tank competition, they’ll have their app trailer at that point.

For Phase Two, they won’t have their app trailer. You have to get a green light for Phase Two to get to where you’re going to have an app trailer.

So they have all these collateral materials, and it’s a really a very well-developed project. Everybody has a team. Everybody is on a team. They can have those conversations.

For my students, I have found, that when they go to college and when everything else is equal. You and all of the other folks who are interviewing for that scholarship have the same GPA, and you have the same activities. You’re the best of the best.

When my students can kick back and talk about the app that they made, and that they were the Project Manager in the Shark Tank Competition, and how they spoke and how they were able to work through the problems that you have in teams, how you were able to motivate people who maybe aren’t very motivated because it’s the end of the school year… THAT really does make a difference.

I find that it’s also very engaging for students and very fulfilling to have a meaningful product that comes out of this whole process.

So I’ve given you seven strategies, seven techniques that I use when we’re making apps.

I hope this has been a helpful Ed Tech Tool Tuesday, and kind of gives you an overview of how I like to run things.

This is a typical project setup for me. The students are running it. I’m the coach. I’m helping the kids. I’m encouraging the kids. That sort of thing. So I hope this gives you some insight.

Feel free to tweet me @coolcatteacher if you have questions about this. Also take a look at MAD-learn and their really cool books! Thanks!

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Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]

 

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