Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Advice to Teachers from High School Student Who Created an iPhone App On His Own

Editor’s note: I met Blake Copeland at Alan November’s #BLC10 conference and asked him to share his insights here at The Innovative Educator. Blake is an incoming sophomore at Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas. He is also the developer of the iPhone app DayFinder available at the App Store.

When real learning and creating happens away from school

My name is Blake Copeland. I met Ms. Nielsen at Alan November’s #BLC10 conference last month and she subsequently mentioned me in her blog in a post entitled Just Say Yes to Publishing! Exposing The Man Behind the Curtain If He’s Still Saying No. Ms. Nielsen said her readers would be interested in how I learned to write an iPhone/iPod touch app and how we can use the same learning techniques in school. It is my honor to share with you a few of my thoughts...

Before I dive in, let me give you a little background about myself. I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas (Go Cowboys!) and went to a classical christian school where computers and technology were not part of the curriculum. My interest in computers started at a young age; in second grade, my uncle helped me build a home computer. For me, maybe because it was the forbidden fruit (since I couldn’t use computers at school), I became more interested in technology and began working on our home computer in my spare time. In 6th grade, my friends and I began making movies after school and editing them on the computer. This was when I initially realized the power of technology. I immediately became interested in computers and began using them at home.

Fast forward three years later when I entered Highland Park High School. Halfway through the year, I finally had the idea to make something someone could use on a computer, or in my case, an iPhone app. I went to my high school to see if they offered anything that could help me create an iPhone app but they had no such program. I was alone in trying to build an iPhone app so I went back home and studied. I went online and taught myself the computer language, Objective-C. Two and a half months later, I released DayFinder on the App Store as an app that does date calculations and finds trivia about specific dates in history.

Takeaways from building my app
  1. Self study
    I look at what I did as a self study program, where I gave myself permission to pursue the subject about which I was passionate. In many ways, the school already provides subjects that match up with students’ passions, such as science, math, history, etc. However, where students’ passions don’t match up, it would be great if the school could provide an environment where students could be educated and encouraged in their passions. The biggest challenge is finding enough students to construct a class in that subject.
  1. Applying knowledge
    Real learning takes place at the point of application. In other words, learning takes place when the student takes what he/she has read or studied and puts it into practice in the real world. For example, I personally learned Objective-C not so much by reading and studying it, but by trying to put it into practice. To put this into the classroom, I think students could learn a lot more by having project oriented classes.

  1. School support was lacking
    Part of the struggle I had with my “self studies” was that I had no one to ask questions (with the occasional exception of hearing from a remote blogger). Much of my learning came from struggling with problems and correcting my failures.
What I think happens today in school is that failures are looked down upon. But because we fail at something it can end up being the reason why we learn it so well. I think it could be liberating to students if they felt the freedom to fail as part of the learning process without the consequence of a devastating grade or killing their GPA. I’m not saying a student shouldn’t be assessed on performance. However, in my experience, failures are a big part of learning.

My hope is that educators will strive to provide a learning environment where students are challenged to put their book knowledge into practice in practical real life situations. To me knowledge without application equals wasted effort. I hope some of my reflections and thoughts are helpful and give educators some ideas they can apply with their students. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to share some of my ideas with with innovative educators. I am looking forward to new challenges and applications this year!

Interested in Day Finder? Read all about it.


Ever wished you knew what the day was on a particular date. Doesn't it take forever to calculate that August 6th, 2011 is a Saturday? Ever wanted to know what events happened on a certain date? Well DayFinder is here to help. With DayFinder you can scroll to a date and find out what day it is; you can then optionally go the a website and find historic events and significant birthdays regarding that date. You can also easily find the number of days between two dates or add days to a date. You can even store dates for quick reference. DayFinder is ideal for finding trivia related to a particular date.

- Uses a simple date scroller
- Takes you back to the current date with a simple shake of your iPhone or iPod Touch
- Find out what historic events, birthdays, and significant deaths are on a certain date (requires internet connection)
- Customize the interface


  1. What can I say other than well done Blake!!!

    If I could ask you a question.. You mentioned "Part of the struggle I had with my “self studies” was that I had no one to ask questions (with the occasional exception of hearing from a remote blogger)"

    The is a lot of discussion on this blog about learning amongst of a network of peers. From experience these networks take time to build, so it is not surprising that 'remote bloggers' was all the help you had at the time.

    My question is: Are you developing more Apps, and if so have you created a network of contacts since your first go that you bounce ideas and problems off, or do you prefer the lone, reflective problem solving approach?

    Again well done.

    Peter @Kent3ed

  2. Thanks Peter, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I am developing several more apps and have accumulated a handful of contacts since my first app. I do NOT prefer the lone problem solving route. It just gets frustrating when you don't understand something and there is no one to go to and ask.


  3. Congrats to Blake. I paid for and downloaded the app!
    I looked up some info about his school and District. While they have Blake, who, as a 21st Century entrepreneur, is writing apps for the iPhone after teaching himself, they have a district policy that prohibits use of iPhones,iPods, or any other similar electronic device (p. 17 of the school Code of Conduct). Yet at the same time they have the nerve to proclaim in their mission statement that the District "recognizes the unique potential of each student and integrates the intellectual, social, cultural, and physical aspects of learning." Well, I guess that's not true in Blake's case. Not only do they not recognize or encourage it, they would prohibit him from using the app in his History class, or getting his phone out to show his teacher.
    Here's an interesting question -- how long do we let schools and districts pat themselves on the back for nice sounding mission statements that are totally out of line with the reality of what students are doing and learning, or could be learning in the 21st C? How long do we let them turn their back on the emerging technologies that can revolutionize learning for their students simply because the potential for problems is something they prefer not to have to deal with?
    How long do we content ourselves with ignoring or discouraging the potential of students like Blake? How long do we continue to wonder what's wrong?

  4. My mouth is open in awe!!!

    As a teacher, I long for students with this kind of passion and creativity!

    Way to go, Blake!!!

    You will be an example in my classroom for years to come!

    Tammy Nischan

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