Explainers as Designers

Of the eight high schoolers in the class, just the hands of the two boys shot up. They had experience hacking at home. One had hacked his Nintendo video games, the other jailbreaked his iPhone. The six other girls? Not one raised their hand. They didn’t feel they had the experience or confidence to imagine that they could program an app. But by the end of our co-ed Explainers as Designers program, the girls had not only created mobile phone apps, but they won the competition to get their apps created professionally.

“I enjoyed the challenge provided by the program because I initially wouldn’t even come near programming applications. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought of trying to program anything prior to taking part in the Explainers as Designers Program, said Jacqueline, a member of the winning team.
The challenge: create a phone app to match up with exhibits and engage New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) visitors. This may be a simple challenge for a Silicon Valley software engineer, but not for these high school students, many from low-income neighborhoods, with no engineering background. Could they design and create these apps and pitch them to a panel of judges in just seven weeks? They could and they did (and the apps were pretty amazing).

Fifty-five NYSCI Explainers (high school and college students who explain museum exhibits to the public) participated in a version of Iridescent’s Technovation Challenge this summer and learned not only how to design and program apps using App Inventor, but they learned all about entrepreneurship from industry experts.The program was targeted at low-income and minority students who were already interested in science, but did not necessarily have any interest or experience in engineering. The point? Show them that engineering and business is fun and accessible and that yes, they too could be engineers and entrepreneurs. “I thought that it was amazing. My favorite thing about it is that it allows these students who would not normally get training in entrepreneurship or App Inventor to learn about these subjects. It opens new doors for them and may encourage some to become engineers or entrepreneurs,” said Sookram Ramsaroop the NYSCI Supervisor for Visitor Interactions.

Most of the students had never programmed before, but they picked it up in just a few classes. “The part that interested me the most was the programming (I gained a greater understanding of what it is, what it’s used for, and how it is done). I was pleased to find that I could pick up app inventor pretty quickly,” said Lauren, a member of one of the winning teams.The judging panel chose Bio-Hatcher as the winning app at Pitch Night. The panel was also very impressed with Molecule Rush, and they asked for an exception to be made and for both apps to be developed professionally. The apps will be developed this winter by a professional studio for both the Android and iPhone. The apps will be available for download online, at NYSCI, and at other partnering museums across the nation. Iridescent is working with the studio to have them mentor and train the eight students from the two winning teams this winter in coding and app design.The program was funded by the New Youth City Learning Network and the New York Community Trust.

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