Medford App Design summer camp launched!

The Medford camps have kicked off with a resounding success!

wholecamp_11974 instructors, and 19 campers arrived at the McGlynn Middle School, this week to start learning and exploring about making apps that run on Android mobile devices.

Our concept is to make learning computer science more fun and accessible. And based on the attentive work and very often smiling faces, I would say that we all have been doing an OK job!

The campers began Monday, learning basic block coding skills, using an MIT-developed programming environment called App Inventor. The campers started camp making an app that speaks synthetic language using App Inventor’s Text to Speech component.


Then we got the kids jumping (literally!). Using an App Inventor component that measures acceleration, campers made apps that recorded the number of times they jump while holding their tablet. After everyone was done, we had a 10 second Jump Off Contest. One pair of campers managed to jump 29 times in 10 seconds, incredible! The average camper pair jumped 26 times. Fred Martin remarked that when he did this with older programmers they got an average of 10! So these kids have energy!

Campers were also shown how to send this information on their jump sessions to a single online database from which the whole camp could see each other’s data. This is called “crowd sourcing,” and from it we could quickly see how others did with their jumps! Campers will be able to use this ability to make apps that collect data from out in the community for others to analyze and maybe even make decisions that can affect the community in some beneficial way!

A busy day, right? But there was more! A key critical part of this camp is encourage community connections. Not only does it feel good to have campers work with community members, but research shows that kids get more engaged if the work they do relates to the real world.

So in the afternoon on the first day, we invited three exciting community partners. Alicia Hunt came from Medford’s Department of Energy and Environment. She talked about the City’s work with the windmill and also the City’s work helping to preserve the environment. Our second partner was Shanasia Sylman from the Mystic River Watershed Conservation Association. She talked about how in Medford they were concerned with making sure there was ample green space around and near the river in which people could recreate and walk around. Lastly, we had Syrah McGivern, also from the City of Medford, speak about her work with Team Medford, which focuses on making sure all Medford residents have opportunity and access to healthy food and places to exercise.


Shanasia talks with the campers about the Mystic Watershed Conservation Association

After they presented, everyone gathered around and we discussed ways we could use our skills in making apps so that we could help these organizations with their work in the community. The rest of the week will be devoted to making a final app that they can present back to the community partners and maybe even have the app uploaded to the Google Play Store for all to use!


We’ll keep you posted on our progress!


Sample Teacher Lesson Plans

Here is a sample of one of the teacher’s lesson plans developed this year. I think this sampling here gives one an understanding the level of basic computer skills required to start the programming work. See below for a link to the full curriculum progression over the full 15-20 hours.

Day 5 – Computer Skills Knowledge

Main Goal/ Overview

Have the students get familiar with “driving around” the computer so that they have more ease of use when creating apps.


Learning Objectives

Knowledge – Knowledge of computer organization.

Skills – Have the students get familiar with downloading files, where to save a file to the hard drive, files, folders, naming files, and stress organization.


Day 6 – Starting App Inventor

Main Goal/ Overview

Have the students get familiar with “driving around” App Inventor.

Learning Objectives Knowledge and Skills – Have the students get familiar with logging into Google, going to App Inventor website, hooking up tablet, connecting via USB, look at display, look at blocks, and see how that affects the tablet.


Full Curriculum Link



Teacher Professional Development

Brainstorming ideas for apps.

Our teacher professional development (PD) began in early October of 2014.

We have the participation of five middle school teachers—three from Medford and two from Everett.

Presently, we’ve finished the principal teacher PD, which consisted of 11 workshops that happened pretty much weekly. The PD consisted of these main elements:

  • Project Background
  • Orientation to Computing
  • Computational Thinking Skills Building
  • Curriculum Development
  • Logistics Assistance

Project Background. We got the teachers up to speed of the general situation regarding Computing in Education in the United States and how this project aims to promote a computing experience amongst Middle Schoolers in Medford and Everett. We also pointed out how this project aims to study of our work’s effects on CS education pipeline later as these student progress into High School.

Orientation to Computing and Computational Thinking Skills Building. Teachers were introduced to hands-on programming work and readings that discussed various approaches that aim to alleviate the known obstacles to building computing skills and confidence. The hands-on approach got teachers quickly learning practical skills, and within weeks all were able to build their own apps for their Android tablets!

Curriculum Development. Interwoven into our Computing Skills Building training was discussion about how these learned skills and knowledge would be implemented in their own class rooms. By Session 6, we were fully on to the topic of Curriculum Development and teachers were asked to focus on plans to integrate their own class objectives with a selected few of the CSTA Learning Standards.

These 3 were:

  • Computational Thinking—Use the basic steps in algorithmic problem solving to design solution
  • Computational Practice—Identify interdisciplinary careers that are enhanced by computer science
  • Collaboration—Exhibit dispositions necessary for collaboration: providing useful feedback, integrating feedback, understanding and accepting multiple perspectives, socialization

At the end of this process, teachers had written their curriculum goals and created lesson plans; we’ll share a sample in a subsequent post.

Logistics Assistance: This support thus far has been provided mostly by Teacher Mentor Akira Kamiya and undergraduate assistant Kim Douglas. To date, desktop computers with appropriate drivers and set up the tablets to be ready for student use. This included installing a Demo App made by one of the teachers during our PD. We also set up Google Drive to allow direct access to teacher shared files. This entailed thinking through out Google’s complex cross device sharing which was cause for some concern regarding privacy. We feel now that this has been sufficiently worked out.

This work is ongoing and includes technical assistance  Updates will be forthcoming!