Want to learn how to develop smart phone apps? At Solon High School, there’s a class for that.
This semester, computer science and math teacher Daniel McKeen led the first-ever app development class at Solon High with a group of 20 seniors who took a companion C++ coding course in the fall. Mr. McKeen said both courses are new for this school year and provided a next step for students who had taken all of Solon High’s other computer science course offerings.
“There was nothing else for them to take that was programming related, and a lot of them would be (teacher assistants) for me and they would be in here, but they would say, ‘Man, too bad there isn’t another class,’” Mr. McKeen said. “So students always come back to visit from college, so I asked them, ‘What do you wish that we could’ve taken or that I could’ve offered you?’ And they said, ‘C++ regularly, because it’s kind of a core of the stuff that they do, and app development.’”
Seniors Zoe Drasner, Pranit Behara, Dylan Duecaster and Kyle Maiorana all took the app development course this semester. Kyle said it was a no-brainer to take the course because he was interested in learning app development and enjoyed collaborating with his classmates in the intro and AP computer science courses his sophomore and junior years.
“We had been working together and were really looking forward to another opportunity to be in a collaborative work environment, so we sort of tackled the new challenges together and helped each other work through it,” he said. “(App development) is something I’ve always looked at or played around with but never had the motivation to get to a point where I feel comfortable with those tools and those programs, and having it in the classroom setting early on in high school I think is going to be so beneficial to all of us.”
Pranit and Dylan said they had a little exposure to the Android Studio app development software through their involvement with the robotics team, but the course allowed them to develop a deeper knowledge of exactly how the software works. Zoe said she would’ve taken anything Mr. McKeen had to offer but was excited when she heard they would be learning C++ and app development.
“We code something, we run into a problem, we solve the problem, we keep coding,” she said. “I like that structure a lot better and that’s what his classes are always like, so this was just the elective I wanted my senior year.”
Mr. McKeen said the semester began with all students working through a textbook and on a single project, with students then breaking off with the freedom to create whatever final project they wanted. He noted that Android Studio is the professional industry standard for app development, so the students were thrown in the deep end rather than using a simpler software.
“The idea is they’re all seniors, second semester, move at the pace you want to move at,” he said. “They’re working on the commercial grade software. If they get a job, they’ll be working in Android Studio. There’s so much work just to get images and buttons and having that sort of thing work. They did a tremendous job to get as far as they did.”
Kyle said phones provided by the Solon Board of Education helped the students to test their apps in real time on actual phone screens rather than using emulator software on computers that was very slow to load. Some of the apps created included Toonify, which would turn photos taken in the app into cartoons, rock-paper-scissors, baccarat and truth or dare.
Zoe, who will attend the University of Michigan in the fall, designed the “Pick a School” app which gives users the choice to click on an image of the logos for Michigan or the Ohio State University. Those choosing Michigan will receive a message that says “you are pretty,” while those choosing Ohio State receive a “you’re not very intelligent” message.
Pranit’s app tests your reaction time by measuring how fast you press a button when prompted at a random interval.
“It was really hard to get the timer to work, though, because there’s, like, so many different timers you can use, so I ended up going through two different timers before I ended up asking one of my friends what he was using for a timer, and then I ended up with that,” he said.
Dylan’s “Late for Work” app simulates driving down the road, and in the game you try to dodge other cars by tapping the sides of the screen as objects fly by the left, center and right of you. Because he ran out of time in the semester, the “cars” are rectangles on the screen, but figuring out how to incorporate graphics and movement was a lot of work, he said.
“Especially when working on my app, whenever I encountered a really hard problem to solve, when I worked through it and fixed it, it was really cool to see it actually work out in the end.”
Kyle and classmate Adam Zhang’s app titled “Is Jonah Hill Fat?” allows users to go backward and forward through various images of the actor’s career to track his tendency for gaining and losing dramatic amounts of weight for the roles he portrays. Kyle said he is in the process of adding the app onto the Apple App Store and monetizing it with Google Ads.
“Obviously, no one is paying to buy this app,” he said. “It’s more for the experience thing, not to make money, then anyone who is going onto the app is going to be getting us revenue.”
Mr. McKeen said he was thrilled to get another year teaching the 20 seniors in the class and enjoyed seeing students take the lead and solve problems on their own, with some students working farther in the textbook than he even did.
“I had never done anything like (app development) at all,” he said. “I spent last summer essentially working through the lessons that they were going to do, which is why when two students got to chapter 24 and I had only gotten into the teens, that’s great. It’s actually better when they’re helping each other and helping them anyway.”
The students said the class will definitely continue to help them in college and beyond, with Dylan planning to study aerospace engineering, Pranit and Zoe studying computer science and Kyle studying computer engineering in college. Kyle, Zoe, Adam and Sonny Gosh will also be working in a paid computer programming development position over the summer after winning a Hackathon coding competition in Janurary.
Mr. McKeen said he was proud of the work the class accomplished this semester and looks forward to offering the C++ and app development courses for the second time next year.
“The app development, it’s hard,” he said. “It’s really impressive that they got that much done in a shortened semester class, because they’re all seniors. They left (three) weeks ago. I was happy with how much they got done, but I had hoped we got further. It’s my first time through, so I can even speed it along.”