Sunday, November 4, 2012

Family Learns Together Through App Creation

Guest post by Kevin Scritchfield

My family’s dream of creating apps for the App Store began over 3 years ago when our kids were involved in the National Bible Bee when it first began. The Bible Bee organization would send you all of the materials - mainly specific verses on different sized cards - for you to study and memorize in preparation for the local competition in order to work your way up to the National stage. My son had the idea of creating a specific type of memorization app that would have helped in the process of memorizing the hundreds of required verses. That conversation grew into talking about other apps that we might be able to create and how we could go about doing that.

Even though my son was only 13 at the time, he had already gone through (at home) a couple of the courses that I teach at my school called Web Page Design (where he learned HTML - the programming language that is at least the shell for all web pages) and Introduction to Computer Programming in C (the programming language than many other languages are based on). He had also played around with the iPhone SDK which is what Apple provides to app developers to create iPhone apps in, as well as Corona SDK which is a third party application that is very similar to Apple’s. With all of this knowledge under his belt, we thought he would be able to create the code for these apps that we had been thinking of  developing. We thought we would start with the one that we pictured doing the best in terms of potential sales within the App Store and to the widest possible potential audience. So our goal was to become an app-developing family!




Hired help
As time progressed and other things became higher (or at least more immediate) priorities, the time that my son had to spend on practicing and learning about coding apps grew shorter and shorter. The next year (when he was 14) he started working on College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests to earn college units for some his General Education requirements that would also double for his high school curriculum and he was going to our local community college (a 45-minute drive one-way) three days a week taking Calculus with his sister. After a little over a year of realizing how focused his time needed to be on his studies, we decided that we had better hire a developer before someone ‘stole’ our ideas and we started seeing our apps showing up in the App Store.

Out of all of the apps that each of us thought would be great ideas, we decided to start with my first choice. My idea stemmed from a game that I had played in my classroom for years when I had taught Algebra I and Algebra II. I would type out different algebraic equations and print them onto overhead transparencies and them cut them up as individual equations. I would give each student a Bingo board on paper that they would fill in with specific sets of numbers. Then I would place the equations, one by one, onto the overhead projector until someone would yell “Bingo!” and I would reward them with a blowpop or something similar. From that experience, we ended up creating Alge-Bingo.

From idea to app store
It has been quite the learning curve getting an app developed and into the Store! We started out by using a service called App-Muse (http://appmuse.com/) which provides a place for you to post your idea for an app (without divulging too much information) and three developers will get back to you with a quote of what they would charge to create your app. We ended up hiring the first gentleman that got back to us. He lives in Nova Scotia which made us a little fearful of trying to conduct this type of business from such a long distance (we live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains outside of Fresno, California). But it turned out to be relatively easy with all of the different web services that he used to do everything from creating and signing contracts all online, to showing us examples of different artist’s work that he was considering for us to hire, to creating all of the lists of equations, to sharing art work for our approval once we hired a specific artist, to beta testing different builds of our app as it made its way through the progression of becoming what it is now.

The only downside of the development process was that he told us he could create our app in 6 weeks when it actually took closer to 14 weeks. One of the last things we added at the end was the music that is in the app which was a song written and recorded by my son. We eventually gave the final approval and our app went live in the iTunes App Store on December 21st, 2011! It was absolutely amazing seeing something that I had created actually be live in the App Store for the whole world to see and actually purchase to download and play!!

An unexpected lesson
Perhaps the largest lesson that we are learning is that the work is not in creating the app in the first place. It is getting your app known from among the other 500,000 apps in the App Store! So, we are now in the process of marketing our app everywhere we can think of people possibly being able to hear about it. I have written letters to school districts that I know are running 1:1 iPad programs with either middle school or high school students. I have contacted hundreds of teachers that I follow or that follow me on Twitter. I have emailed hundreds of other teachers that subscribe to the same listservs that I do. I have contacted presentation gurus that go around the country doing presentations on using iPads and iTouches in the classroom and asked them to show Alge-Bingo within their demonstrations. We have printed up postcards as an advertising tool to hand out at workshops and conferences. In fact, I just spent two days this past weekend at a conference in Sacramento where I spoke on Cloud Computing for Educators (one of my courses through Fresno Pacific University) and trying to get the word out about Alge-Bingo at the same time. In a couple of weeks I will be at the CUE (Computer Using Educators) Conference in Palm Springs doing the same thing. Our goal is to specifically search out and contact as many schools as we can that have iPad or iTouch programs within their schools to ask their math teachers to check out Alge-Bingo to see if it might be something that they would be willing to add to their list of apps that they include on their school devices or to at least share with their students.

It has truly been an exciting experience to create an app of our own and we very much hope to be able to turn more of our ideas into reality soon. I will be teaching a new course at my school next year - Developing iPhone Apps. I will be taking my students through learning the C language and then through a book on using the Corona SDK. I am hoping this will force me to learn much more about the process along with my son and we will then be able to turn that experience into being able to create our own apps without having to hire someone else to do it!

You can check out Alge-Bingo at http://itunes.apple.com/app/alge-bingo/id490498376?mt=8


You can find more ideas for using mobile devices for learning by reading Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning. 
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I have been a public high school math and computer applications instructor for over 26 years. I have also actively participated with my wife in homeschooling our own two children. I am also an online instructor for Fresno Pacific University in their Continuing Education Department helping other teachers learn about technology. My children are currently working on dual credit for their high school courses while also earning college credit. My daughter is 18 and working toward her B.A. Degree in Anthropology. She will graduate from high school this Spring. My son is 17 and working on his B.A. Degree in Music. We have been very involved in their education all along.
Kevin Scritchfield
MrScritch@gmail.com
@kscritch
A.A. Degree in Bible and Theology, San Jose Bible College
B.A. Degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), California State University, Stanislaus
M.A. Degree in Teaching, University of the Pacific, Stockton
Currently teaching at Sierra High School, Tollhouse, California and Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California
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