Developing App-titude

MIT alumni families in Hong Kong put their creativity and problem solving skills to work with the MIT App Inventor.

MIT alumni and their families attend an app-building workshop using the MIT App Inventor. Photo by Agnes Ho.

Marina Chan | MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node
April 8, 2017

Family bonding took on a new definition as MIT alumni and their children spent a tech-savvy morning of app-building on April 1, 2017 at the home of the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node.

Facilitated by Josh Sheldon and Michael Tissenbaum from the MIT App Inventor team, thirteen families participated in an introductory session to app creation. MIT App Inventor is a web-based programming system developed by MIT’s Center for Mobile Learning that transforms the complex language of text-based coding into visual, puzzle piece-shaped building blocks. Its intuitive, graphical interface makes it easy for learners to create fully functional mobile apps for Android smart phones.

Tools such as MIT App Inventor enables even the novice learner to shift from a passive consumer of technology to becoming active producers through technology. “Many of the kids seemed really engaged, offering answers to the programming questions we posed to them, and took charge of understanding what was going on,” said Tissenbaum.

Learning how to build an app develops computational thinking — a process for problem solving, and more importantly, empowers individuals to utilize technology as a powerful agent for change. Starting early has its advantages.

“I think it’s good to have kids of all ages participate,” said Oliver Chen, MIT ’93. “Getting any experience, even in the environment, helps with familiarity and getting them that much farther next time around.”

Mobile app development puts the creative power into the hands of the user. Chen added, “My kids enjoyed the workshop. Beyond spending time together, its always fun to personalize and be able to create things in their own way, so I’d definitely encourage that.”

Chen also noted that the tool’s connectivity and cloud features present valuable learning opportunities. “Kids these days may not appreciate the complexity and the security or authentication issues that go into this area, since everything they interact with already has connectivity. It is taken as a given.”

Technology is ubiquitous. Its impact on education has set off a wave of initiatives around the globe to equip students with fundamental skills for the future. In Hong Kong, CoolThink@JC is orchestrating a multiyear rollout of the MIT App Inventor tool across primary schools with an emphasis on research-informed instruction, rigorous teacher training and community engagement. This charts a course to nurture the next generation of digital natives to become better problem solvers and innovators.