Getting Started Teaching App Development

  • Published: Thursday, July 30, 2020

Developing your own apps for mobile devices is fun and surprisingly easy and inexpensive to get started with. Here is how to plan for teaching app development.

  1. Pick a platform: Making apps for iOS uses different coding and processes than making an app for Android or Google. Apple uses XCode for app development, which is only available on a Mac laptop or desktop as a downloaded application. However, Apple’s teaching tool for XCode, Swift Playgrounds, is a great app for phones or iPads. Android has a couple of solid options for app development, App Lab Maker from Code.org or MIT App Inventor are both really fun drag-and-drop environments for building Android apps. Google uses developer mode in Google Chrome and is text coded with HTML/CSS and Javascript. All these options are free.
  2. Decide how far to go: Both platforms provide an emulator, which is basically an electronic version of the device you are programming for. The emulator is fully functional and can be good enough to get your feet wet and learn the process. Going further and putting your app on a device may require you to download more software (in the case of MIT App Inventor), special connectors and devices to test on. The final step, publishing an app to an app store, may not be the right way to go. There are no “educational” publishing portals. Each student will have to have an account at the given store (i.e., Google Play, iTunes or Chrome Web Store) and at some point there will be fees involved. But the good news is you don’t need all that to make a fully functioning app!
  3. Pick a problem: Once students learn the basics of the programming language and interface, give them problems to solve with an app (e.g., it’s dark and my phone doesn’t have a light, how can I make one with an app?).
  4. Dig deeper: Many of the tools mentioned above can build apps that access the tools on phones such as the microphone, accelerometer and magnetometer. They can also pull information like maps and data straight from the web such as real-time weather, movie times and more. Can your students build a metal detector app or a quick weather app?

Creating apps is one of the most in-demand coding jobs out there right now. Showing students how easy it is to get started can spark a lifelong coder and maybe even provide some real-world job skills!