Teacher Paul Gallanagh on how Apps for Good's IoT course inspired students to think creatively to solve problems
Our school canteen was strangely quiet during the period we worked on Apps for Good with our first year pupils at Dunoon Grammar School in Argyll, Scotland – with many of our young people choosing to spend their lunch times working together on their app ideas, supplementing the class time spent on this pioneering project.
Not many school-based learning experiences can stake the claim of pupils sacrificing social times, but it was evident Apps for Good sparked something positive in our junior pupils from the get go. (See also "'We're Okay!' Challenging stereotypes with an app" and "Tech boring? Not with Apps for Good".)
Although we have been teaching coding to the youngest of our pupils for over a decade, we had struggled to find a real and relevant context to capture imaginations and to ignite passions.
We were intrigued to hear of the new Apps for Good Internet of Things pilot learning programme and were delighted that Apps for Good added us to be the list of schools taking part in this pilot. Our S3 (middle school) pupils have worked on the Apps for Good for the last few years so we knew that our younger peoples were in for a treat.
The Apps for Good recipe for effective learning was clear in the new IoT learning resources: team working, communications, problem solving as well as coding were all key ingredients – but for us the creative forum offered throughout the learning experience was unrivalled.
Our pupils were commissioned with the task of conceiving, researching, developing and producing a smart internet enabled device that would have a positive impact on society. They certainly rose to the occasion and this coupled with the extent they were willing to adopt and incorporate a social dimension to their work was fantastic. From baby mobiles with inbuilt thermometers that would switch on a fan to cool down baby when the room got too hot, to sun hats with UV sensors that would notify a user, via a web app, to keep in the shade or to slap on more sun lotion. The range of ideas produced by our young people was innovative and inspiring and testimony to the quality of the Apps for Good learning resources.
The wealth of resources and support from the amazing Apps for Good team at each stage of the programme was fantastic. Our teaching staff were no-longer the sage on the stage – but more the guide by the side as our young people embarked on a range of pupil-led initiatives. The great flexibility within the programme ensures it is accessible for all – for example a range of coding platforms were used by our young people, to suit a range of abilities – including the BBC Micro:Bit block editor, Microsoft Touch Develop and Visual Basic.
The opportunity for our young people to discuss their concepts with industry experts – easily organised via the Apps for Good portal – is a key strength of the process. Our young people were enthused with the encouragement and advice received from a range of experts, fuelling further work on their ideas.
Our time working on Apps for Good this academic year ended in spectacular fashion, with double delight at the Apps for Good UK awards in June. We were extremely grateful to receive the UK School of the Year award and one of our teams scooped the inaugural IoT award for their SafeStep idea – a range of smart internet enabled rugs that can sense if someone has fallen and can then automatically contact a loved one for assistance. This recognition is a great honour for our school.
We are now looking forward to building on the successes of this year and are excited with the new developments Apps for Good are planning – including innovative assessment approaches. Apps for Good certainly do not stand still and seek continuous improvement and evolution of their learning opportunities. We are thankful to have been part of their journey the last few years and we have warned our kitchen staff to expect further lean times shortly, when our new batch of S1 pupils have their first taste of Apps for Good.
Paul Gallanagh is principal teacher for computer science at Dunoon Grammar School in Argyll, Scotland
Dunoon Grammar School won Apps For Good's 2017 School of the Year Award
To find our more about becoming an Apps for Good educator visit appsforgood.org