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Students learn how to develop apps

There are smartphone and tablet applications for just about everything these days, but there are still plenty of ideas floating around waiting to be turned into apps.

East Ridge High School math teacher Donald Winston has decided to groom the next generation of app developers with his new East Ridge club focusing on app development.

"It truly is a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) career," Winston said.

The app development club currently has 10 students and meets Mondays after school.

Winston said he first started thinking about starting an app development club last spring when he spoke during the school's career fair about app development and had several students comment on how they would like to learn the basics of app development.

"I have an interest in developing apps," he said. "I have developed several apps that are in the app store, so I've done a lot of that."

App development

Every week, Winston teaches students the basic fundamentals of app development through lessons.

Winston said he will also task students with developing certain elements, on their computers, based on what they've learned.

Students have already developed a first-person shooting game.

The club, expected to last all year, will culminate with students working together to develop a complete app.

Winston said he has a few ideas for apps that he wants the students to develop, but he doesn't want to give anything away yet.

"I'm teaching them the very fundamental basics of programming but in the context of developing games," Winston said. "Then we're going to take everything we've done and create an end product."

The end product will include a number of different elements including images, animation, swipe events and click events.

"I've never been a great artist, but I can do things with Adobe Flash or Adobe Illustrator that I could never do with a pencil and paper," Winston said. "Everyone grew up doodling, but now you can doodle and create images that you can animate and play with."

Like anything, Winston said, developing an app starts with a basic idea.

"What is it that you want the app to do," he said, "how do you want it to react?"

The next step in app development is to start writing the computer code.

"From that idea you start coming up with the program structure to actually make that happen," he said. "It's a lot like building a house if you will; you have a concept of what kind of house you want built and now you have to look at it in terms of pieces."

East Ridge junior Ben Mechelke, who joined the club because he has an interest in computers, said if he could develop any type of app he would want to develop something that would help people find whatever service they are looking for in their area.

"I feel like app development is a great thing to learn," he said.

East Ridge sophomore Saarthak Madan, who took the class to better understand how apps actually work, said his app of choice would be to create something that would combine all social media sites - Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging - into one single app.

"With this club I'll have a good foundation so that I can go a little more in depth in that field," he said, "and it can lead to a lot of other things."

Winston said the students have already learned a lot about app development in just the first few weeks.

"It's kind of been an eye opening experience for kids because they're learning that there's a lot of minutia and detail that goes into developing apps," he said. "They're starting to understand what it really takes to develop a game."

Lifelong skills

Even though students will be learning the skills to develop apps, Winston said the benefits of the app development class are much greater than that.

"It increases a student's logical reasoning, mathematical reasoning and problem solving," he said. "It also teaches them a great deal about perseverance.

"Also, developing apps will humble you because you will fail a thousand times before you actually get a product that you can send out the door - it teaches students resiliency."

However, Winston said the biggest benefit of learning app development is that it teaches students to be creative.

"Too much of what we do, we encourage students to think inside the box - math scores, MCA scores (Advanced Placement) scores," Winston said. "All they do is fill in an oval. Developing apps allows them to be creative and innovative, it requires you to think outside the box, and we need more people like that in the world."

A final benefit of learning app development, Winston said, is that it is giving students skills for the future.

"What do Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, and (Mark) Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, all have in common," he said. "All of them started developing apps at a very early age.

"Maybe students will learn how to develop apps, but more importantly they'll learn how to develop lifelong skills that are going to be in high demand in the future, even if it never makes it to the app store."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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