BCSWomen Android/AppInventor Programming “family fun day”

January 28, 2013 - BCS / Women in Computing

On Saturday, I ran an Appinventor based “family fun day” in Leeds, the idea was to do a day’s workshop getting started with AppInventor, but to do it with mixed groups. I’d run a similar workshop for BCSWomen before, and I’d run one with schoolkids, but I’d never tried to do all together with kids and grownups in the same room.

So we (BCSWomen) got together with BCS West Yorkshire, and decided to run it as a joint event. We booked the HEART centre in Headingley, and 70 people signed up (we actually had to close registrations as that was the max for the room). On the day, weather got the best of many people and only about 45 managed to get there, but we’d have been very full if all 70 had come along so that’s fine by me!

The Heart Centre

The Headingley Enterprise & Arts Centre, in the snow

The range of people who came was huge. I think the youngest was 6 and the oldest was 60 (although I didn’t ask everyone their age, that would have been weird). One of the things I love about appinventor is the way it demystifies the process of coding for mobile phones – getting people of 6 (or 60) to code something, then install it on a telephone, then play with it, then change it, then build something else, all in a day… Great.

The general structure of the day was fairly basic, and fairly obvious to anyone who’s run an appinventor workshop before:

  • Start by installing appinventor (this was chaos)
  • Make the meow app (where you tap a picture of a cat, and the phone goes meow): this gets people coding by following instructions
  • Edit this to use shaking & vibrating as input and output, and dogs and woofs as content: this introduces people to the idea of editing code
  • Then… do whatever you want, in small groups. This was the high risk stage: I started by showing a bunch of apps people might like to build, showing the blocks and explaining how they fitted together; this gave everyone a feel for what was possible. I also gave everyone a bunch of drum sounds and a bunch of farmyard sounds, so the “drum machine”/”name that farmyard animal” apps were clearly an option. But the ideas people actually came up with were more imaginative than that; from the young lad who wanted to do Djembe drums (rather than the traditional drumkit) to the family who built a drawing app which had random colour selection.

I really enjoyed the day, and it was certainly more fun than any of the straightforward schools workshops I’d worked on. Having family groups worked very well – a couple of parents, uncles and aunties came up to me at the end to say how nice it had been to have the opportunity to do something like that as a family; appinventor is far from perfect, but it is definitely fun and creative, which went down very well with all ages. A couple of people said they’d got ideas for activities to do at home, too, which was nice.

As a workshop it was quite labour intensive. I had three excellent helpers in Gillian Arnold, Louise Brown, and Philippa Conmy, and I do think that when we run it again we need to have similar levels of support. Other things to do differently include remembering more multi-plug adaptors, and trying to work out some way of getting appinventor installed on everyone’s laptop, before the workshop starts.

The feedback forms were pretty much all positive – a bunch of 8, 9 and 10 scores, lots of “yes do it again”, and so on. This was my favourite form though:

My favourite feedback form

My favourite feedback form

Hopefully I’ll put together a video to show how it went, and highlight some of the apps people put together – currently I’m waiting for video permission, as I forgot to get it on the day, oops!

When I get the time I’ll be editing the slides and notes, and releasing it as a workshop in a box, for anyone to take on and run – watch this space:-)

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