Apex High students learn cellphone app making

Optional program offered after school

cebaker@newsobserver.comJanuary 25, 2012 

  • The Academy of Information Technology at Apex High Schools will use mentors from the private sector to help teach app development, and more mentors are needed. To volunteer, contact Julie Oster at joster@wcpss.net.

— In the past year, people downloaded more than 17 billion apps to their mobile phones and tablet computers, and that number is expected to skyrocket in the next two years.

That is why students at Apex High School will be learning how to design and market mobile apps, as part of a test program launched by computer maker Lenovo and the National Academy Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that develops education programs for public schools.

Students will work in teams to create a real-world mobile app during the 12-week, after-school course. Enrollment is optional, but as of Tuesday 30 students had registered, said Julie Oster, director of the Academy of Information Technology, an Apex High program that follows the NAF curriculum.

Among them is sophomore Sullivan Figurskey, who said he is looking forward to the first course.

"I think this will be one of those programs I'll remember because it will shape the future of my academic career," Sullivan said.

On Tuesday, Lenovo and NAF announced the course at a press conference in the Apex High media center. They were joined by Gov. Bev Perdue and Superintendent of Wake County Public Schools Tony Tata.

Lenovo donated 30 Android-based ThinkPad tablets and several ThinkCentre HD All-in-One desktop computers for the program; the company worked with NAF and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop the curriculum. Not only will it teach students technology skills such as coding and programming, but also how to create a business plan to market their apps.

Apex High School has been affiliated with NAF since 2001, when the school began a program that follows the NAF curriculum and offers courses in computer networking, programming and web design, among others.

Tom Looney, vice president and general manager at Lenovo, said a study by the company found that more than 80 percent of students wanted to learn how to design mobile apps and that they believe it will be crucial to their academic success and careers.

Choosing Apex

Many students at Apex on Tuesday were in awe over their new tablets, hardly taking their eyes off the screen, and using them with a level of familiarity that made it seem as though they had been doing it for years.

Apex High School was chosen as the initial site for the mobile app development program in part because of its 10-year relationship with NAF and its proximity to Lenovo's headquarters in Morrisville, Looney said. In addition, the new curriculum coincides with North Carolina's Science, Technology, Engineering And Mathematics initiative.

Perdue, a former teacher and advocate of STEM programs, said the challenge for North Carolina is to be "high tech" and to help students have real-time experiences, which is what the mobile app program is designed to do.

"If we don't give our students time to learn, think, create and play, we will be doing them a disservice," she said. "We owe it to the next generation to give them the skill set they need to have the careers that they want."

The mobile app development program will be offered also at four other NAF schools in New York, Los Angeles, Hartford, Conn., and Waco, Texas.

When the program reaches its midway point, curriculum experts from Lenovo, NAF and MIT will evaluate its effectiveness. NAF hopes eventually to offer the program at its 100 Academies of Information Technology, like the one at Apex High School, across the country.

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