Pilot - U1L09 - Project: Propose an App

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I am a high school CS teacher. Most of my students have little or no experience with computer science and not necessarily any particular interest other than knowing it is a buzzy topic.

The Unit 1 project on a a problem solving app was by far my favorite part of this unit. As a teacher who strongly believes in the power of creativity, I found this project really allowed for a wide variety of creative solutions.
For this project I chose groups by first having students express world problems they were interested in solving. The students shared their problem ideas with people at their table and compared topics. From here, they narrowed down to one topic that they felt would best fit being solved with an app. The discussions they had were great and it led us to continue the work of the previous lessons where students thought about what data an app could access.
We had app ideas ranging from solving first world problems, like choosing an outfit to wear based on the clothes in a wardrobe, to more serious concerns such as helping people in poor countries locate and purchase more affordable food.
The biggest challenge was helping students stay grounded in reality. I spent a lot of time asking questions to get students to think critically about what they were considering. For example: Is reprinting coupons legal? How would you know where to distribute your app for best effect? How will your app gather the info on water resources? How will you get a full wardrobe into the app?
A lot of the questions required students to think about the data coming from the phone, Internet, or user, which I though really reinforced the concept.
We concluded with app poster presentations. Although I didn’t do it, I think this would be a great opportunity for visitors to see what students were thinking about and developing. I also couldn’t help but think of how this is similar to a lot of app challenges out on the Internet.

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Hey Chad,

Sounds like some really interesting discussions and I’m glad this lesson was so engaging for your students. I know it’s a busy time of year but if you have a moment and are comfortable with it I think it’d be really useful to share some photos of what the final posters looked like. I’ve been hearing from lots of teachers that it’s just really helpful to see in a glance where other teachers are ending up on this activities and projects.

Thanks as always for sharing and good luck in Unit 2!

We just finished this lesson today. Let me start by saying that BEFORE I taught this lesson, I really felt like the kids would be let down by not actually making the app. By the time they were finished filling out the Project Guide and working through all of the different aspects of their app, however, they are more than happy to move on to Unit 2. It isn’t because they didn’t like the project, they loved it and came up with some creative ideas for apps. It’s because they had no idea that apps were so complicated and involved and they realized that they are not ready to leap from paper to coding an app right now. They are looking forward to the websites.

Some of the app ideas they came up with: Women’s Equality (it would let you follow women’s sport teams and let you know of women’s events happening in your area, Virtual Math Helper (kind of like Khan Academy in app form), Baby Guide (a babysitting help guide), and an Animal Helper game (you earn coins and after so many coins money is donated to a local animal shelter).

At the end of the project, we talked about how it really helped cement their understanding of input, output, process, and storage. Maybe towards the end of the year we will revisit their ideas and play around with making them a reality.

Renee thanks for the detailed feedback. Glad to hear that the project was successful but not TOO successful. That’s a really nice set of problems that your kids decided to address and it’s great that you were able to tie the project back to the problem solving process. Good luck in Unit 2!

Extra special request: Can you or other people who leave feedback here upload a couple photos of projects. I think other teachers would really love to see what other classes are developing.


My students have started finishing the App project. I would like to share one of the projects. They did their project in google slides instead of poster paper.


Step 6 Process: My students were confused by this part. What exactly did you want the students to describe with processing? They were taking each input and trying to tell me how it would be come output, but this was laborious and some started to balk. Question? Is this a necessary part or something that can be defined better?

Hey Frank this is great but do you think you can post a version that doesn’t include student names. I think school name is ok but for now I’m going to remove the link just because I want to respect your students’ privacy.


Hey Frank,

Great question there. The short answer is that we need to do a better job explaining to students and teachers how much detail we’re looking for when kids describing their processing. Other lessons where we ask kids to communicate their algorithms are also vague so in general we need to tighten this up.

We were looking for a simple description of what the app does to turn the inputs into the outputs. If your inputs are the user’s favorite colors and a list of different shirts, the processing would be looking through the list of shirts to find ones that are the same color and the output would be a list of suggested shirts.

For other teachers preparing for this lesson I would provide a couple simple examples of what that’s looking for but in general I think we (and so you, other teachers) either need to provide more background on how to complete that step or just skip it this time through the curriculum.


Title 1 school, 6th graders, 50/50 male/female ratio, class of students brand new to CS

Like Renee, I also thought that my students may be a little disappointed that they were not actually going to code their app, but they ended up having a great time. I really tried to focus them on applying the problem-solving process to their app concept creation and then also ensuring that they included input, output, storage, processing on their posters. During the making of the posters, I tried to bring up algorithms again and apply this to their app concepts. There was definitely variation in the amount of details that students included in their posters (though I’m not sure if this is because some students enjoy the artistic process of making the poster whereas some just wanted to get through it). The most fun I had was hearing the students’ presentations. After each group presented, I had the class give them two stars and a wish. Listening to the wishes was my favorite part. The constructive feedback that students provided was amazing. For instance, with the Coupon Clicker, the students who created it only included it for use with household items and a ‘wish’ was for the app to include deals for movies, entertainment, amusement parks, and more.

I’ve attached some of the posters in this post.
Watch Dog - to replace the ‘lost pet’ posters hanging on neighborhood mailboxes and to be used together with a pet-tracking device possibly
Coupon Clicker - coupons customized and emailed to ones’ inbox according to a personalized schedule (e.g. once a week) and selection of stores to save people from clipping and losing coupons
Apple a Day - health tracker to combat the problem of obesity - tracks amount eaten, makes recommendations, etc.
And more…


@mak So awesome to see the students posters! Thanks for sharing those. Also really exciting to hear that the students gave really great feedback to each other. Thats awesome!


Hey Frank this is great. Nice to see the variety of artifacts students are developing for this project. Thanks for taking the time to share with other teachers!

I teach at a high school in SLC, Utah. My class is very diverse in that we have multiple languages in the class, English is not the native language of 95% of my students, I have pretty close to 50/50 boy girl ratio and the class is a good representation of students from the entire school ranging from grades 9-12.

Students really enjoyed this activity because they saw that they were using the problem solving process they’d learned throughout the entire unit in a culminating project (not just once). They felt comfortable being able to use the 4 steps in a variety of situations outside of school. I really tried to hit hard on the fact that they are always using the process and should be looking at those problems as decisions they need to make that can possible be solved or fixed.

I feel like it groups bigger than 4 didn’t go really well because someone was usually off task. When students were really shy or wouldn’t find a group I usually put them in a group that they could be part of, however, that often lead to groups of 3 or 4 and less engagement.

I used all of the handouts provided to help students stay accountable for their topics, feedback and rubrics. Here are some pictures from their work and presentations.

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11 students, 9-12th Grades with little experience in CS.

U1L09 - Apps and Problem Solving

This lesson was split up into a few 20 minutes blocks which worked out really well as the students had time to process what they were going to plan out. The first 20 minute block happened at the end of Lesson 8 (Processing with Apps) so they had a direct link to what we were working on, then I did an alternative lesson - Storage and Processing which helped reinforce the idea of “processing” and “storage”. The full 80 minute work day for the students I was absent for, but had closely monitored them the previous to 20 minute periods and the presentations went well. Two groups created a posters, the others created online representations of their apps using Google Draw, I didn’t specify a certain medium and wanted to see how creative they were. All in all in went well, I would’ve expected more had I been there for the work day, and the quality of the final products reflected that, but it was good overall.

Thanks for posting this. I am going to show it to my students as an example.

Classes are mixed grades 7/8. Predominately low income, Hispanic students. 60% qualify for free lunch program. Block schedule - Mon & Wed, 90 minutes, Fridays, 45 minutes. Diverse academic ability levels.

U1L09 is a fun project for my students. Each step of the activity guide was scored separately. I incorporated collaborative brainstorming on Google Docs. I uploaded the activity guide, peer review and rubric to half of the class on Google Classroom and had those students share the document with their partner. Students also created a document for note taking and shared that with their partner as well. I model the collaborative work by opening student work and changing a color or font, or adding a comment. This allows me to create different groups and students learn to work on-line so that they understand that this same thing can be done from home. I used a Google slide presentation. I really focused on defining the problem well. I added a couple of quotes to the slides to reinforce the importance of spending time focusing in on exactly what the problem is. My students tended to be very vague and general. It took a couple of re-do’s to get better at the process.

My students also had a difficult time with the brainstorming problems. They tended to enter solutions to problems, rather than the problems. (For example: student - create more non-smoking areas - changed to - second-hand smoke in public areas.)

I had my students use Google Draw for their output screen. This added time to the unit project, but I think my students enjoyed this and even the ones who couldn’t draw, could make something look good.

The Peer Review was also on-line. Teams filled in their information and then shared their document with another team. To mark the sections as checked or missing, students deleted the mark that did not apply. They typed their comments in the appropriate boxes. I think that it would be simpler if I have one team member open the shared project and the other have open the Peer Review document. This way they won’t have to click back and forth between the activity guide and the peer review. In thinking this through further, I now believe that the best way is to include the Peer Review and the Rubric in the initial document. This way, all they would need to do is share one document. Also, everything that I need to grade the work would be in one place. Both teams earned points for their input on the Peer Review according to the effort and care reflected in their entries. A response in the free response section such as, “everything” or “nothing” did not receive any points.

In presenting the project, students had a choice of how to present - poster or digital presentation of some sort. I will attach samples when I finish with this.

I want to add that I included the English/Language Arts teachers to give extra credit to those students who did well in writing their descriptive paragraphs. This increased the quality of the work that was submitted.


Thanks for all the ideas Debbie. We had been concerned about the peer review being part of the project guide making the overall project guide too big but I’m seeing the practicalities of putting them together. Thanks for the helpful details about those logistics. Descriptions of how you approached grading are also greatly appreciated. If this took a total of 225 minutes that more or less lines up with our expectations for how long this project would take. Glad to hear your students enjoyed it too!

Context: suburban middle school; 7th grade computer class; mixed abilities; mostly Caucasian; middle to low middle class

This lesson took a little longer for me due to state testing and Spring Break, but we got it done. I make the activity guide an online worksheet so students could share it more easily with their partners. I posted it on Google Classroom for easy access. I chunked the work for the students and provided deadlines for each of the sections on the activity guide to keep them moving through the project. The start of the project was a little rocky. Students were initially excited about the idea of creating an app, then quickly were disappointed that they weren’t really going to make the app. This feeling improved dramatically as the creative juices got flowing.
Students were great about using the problem solving strategies set out at the beginning of the unit and they provided strong feedback to one another during peer review. I did give students the choice of whether to create a physical poster or a digital project (they chose their own software for this - most chose a Google Slide presentation, but some chose Google Drawings to create more of an online poster.)
When it came time to share our final work, we had a gallery walk through for each class, but I added the “I like”, “I wish”, and “What if” to the gallery walk with Post-It notes. Students were encouraged to leave them with the posters or slide presentations. After the gallery walk through, partners collected their Post-Its & read them together. Students finished off the project by writing individual blog posts about their experience where they also had to include a change they would make to their proposed apps based on the information received on the Post-Its during the gallery walk.
I think some great ideas were created in this lesson and students really learned about following a process to create something. Many are asking how to create their actual apps!

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@edavis thanks for sharing. I particularly like how you incorporated the “I Like”, “I Wish”, “What If” post-its into the gallery walk. We might be stealing that idea at some point for the curriculum and it’s definitely a good idea for other teachers to try. The photos are also very much appreciated.