New App Development class: where apps are born

October 12, 2016

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 A sample of the coding langauge “Swift” is displayed; this coding language is part of the Xcode program, which students use to design their own apps for second semester.

A sample of the coding langauge “Swift” is displayed; this coding language is part of the Xcode program, which students use to design their own apps for second semester.

By Cesar Cuevas

By Cesar Cuevas

A sample of the coding langauge “Swift” is displayed; this coding language is part of the Xcode program, which students use to design their own apps for second semester.

APP DEVELOPMENT is the new coding language class to learn named ¨Swift¨, as it is the popular code to know right now to make apps for the App Store. This is the class where students learn how to code, which is called Xcode, to make a functional iOS app by the end of the school year. No previous coding knowledge is required, as you learn everything in class step by step. The class is divided up into two separate semesters. First semester teaches all the basics, such as operators or how to print a line, in order to be able to use all skills to build your own app. Students will work in groups over two months to develop their own app from the ground to finished product.

Xcode, the program used to code, is available to anyone to download for free on a Mac. People can also download Swift, the name of the programming language for Apple devices, onto the iPad. The iPad app is much simpler, as it is developed for little kids and has simpler commands already laid out–like copy & paste and seeing a real live simulation of it.

Mr. Koch is the current teacher overseeing all App Development classes. This school year is the pilot year for the class, with over 70+ students of all grades levels currently enrolled. The class is taught in Sandburg’s very own Mac Lab. So many students are taking the wonderful opportunity to code their own app that there needed to be three separate classes to handle the demand.

 Members of the App Development class work diligently on the Xcode learning the fundamentals for creating thier own apps second semester.

By Cesar Cuevas
Members of the App Development class work diligently on the Xcode learning the fundamentals for creating thier own apps second semester.

Mobile Makers Academy is the organization based in Chicago that designed the class. They have a step by step curriculum of teaching Swift to various high schools– including Sandburg. They had laid out projects for students that start off simple and gradually progress in depth of material as the year goes on. Assignments are built to have an MVP, or the basic level that is what is graded. Stretches are added on targets that, if completed, give extra credit, but they are more difficult than the MVP. The Academy wants to emphasize the importance of learning the material and comprehending the concept, rather than focusing on getting a good grade or being nervous of deadlines. As long as a student pays attention, gets at least the MVPs done, and does the in-class demos they will succeed and learn valuable coding experience.

Enrolling in the class gives you the background of coding, but it will not grant an official Apple developer certificate. Mr. Koch explained it when he said, “No, right now there is no correlation between this course and Apple. Mobile Makers Academy talks to Apple directly, but we don’t as a district. Maybe down the road; this is the pilot year. Hopefully down the year you can, it can [even] be something to put on your resume.”

Swift is user friendly when it autocompletes statements, shows a screen of how your code looks, and contains a simulator to run and view your code all together.

Its core is built off of Java and improved; thus, Xcode was born. The simulator is exactly how a real life iPhone works or any other Apple device; however, the class sticks to testing for iPhones. Images can be inserted, as well as text, sounds, multiple screens, widgets, links and basically anything that the mainstream apps in society have.

Seeing how much work goes into an app really makes one ponder how much people take apps for granted. Every app started from scratch, even when it’s done and published. The developers have to constantly update their app for bugs, a new iOS rollout, efficiency in code length, and other reasons.

Collin Jones, a senior enrolled in the class, loved the usability of Xcode when he said, “When making apps, it is straight forward and [a] user friendly coding process”

Students will also take a virtual field trip to skype, an actual dev shop coding infamous apps found on the app store. They will be able to ask questions and see the life of a programmer in a real office coding atmosphere– where it’s fun and different than the conventional office place.

Mr. Koch detailed the opportunity when he said, “there are going to be 2-3 dev shops [we will talk to] and we’ll skype them in. They’ll be able to show how their offices are laid out, what they do on a day to day basis, and what companies they work for. You’ll be able to ask questions directly to the developers, which is kinda cool. It’s definitely a laid back [job] and a different atmosphere compared to a normal job. They [even] have ping-pong tables, not the normal business office or how you [would] think one would look.”

Students can also download all or any app done in class onto their own iPhone if they please. Students are not required to use their own Apple account for the class, as their regular school account works to sign in, but an apple ID is required to download apps to their own iPhone. Downloading apps onto the iPhone simply takes the simulator from the Mac onto the iPhone. Even if the iPhone is disconnected, once the app is fully synced it is on the iPhone until it is manually deleted. Unfortunately, students as of right now cannot publish their app to the app store. It is currently grey area because there are exceptions. A student can publish their app under their own name but will be forced to pay their fee themselves. It is unknown if future apps will be published and paid by the school or by D230.

Students are encouraged to work together and even use the internet if need be. Websites are very helpful, as they have very good tips & tricks for the enormous possibilities and commands in Xcode. Apple rolls out a new OS every year, but the class will not adapt it till the following calendar year. So, the class will remain the change until the next school year, when the curriculum will change to adapt to the changes in Xcode made by Apple. Just like real developers, the class has to adjust to the new changes, such as an iOS app coded on iOS 9 will not work for iOS 10 if it is not updated to be compatible. When students make their own app, it can serve any function of be the official app of a club of their choosing. Mr. Koch said, “In app dev semester two, you can [make your own app for any purpose]. It is ideally what we’re looking for because by the end of 2nd semester you will have had two months to make your own app. You’ll also be working in a group, delegating tasks to different people”.

As Swift is derived from Java, many similar concepts apply from each coding language. Swift tends to be a more lenient language, as it does not need semicolons at the end of lines. In addition, it gives suggestions to autocomplete commands. Java needs every line to be exact and agree to every parameter, although it seems to be easier to follow as all code is on one screen. Both languages have the ability the run the code, although Java compiles the code and Xcode runs a simulator. Future plans for the class are to find a way to give students Swift outside of school. If the class really takes off, there might be more Macs in school. Another plan is to organize classrooms as a mock development shop provided that it mirrors the same atmosphere, group work, and projectors for demos or tutorials to create a model development shop in school. Apps are on their way to Sandburg–and here to stay.


Fun Facts:

~App Development teaches Swift for making iPhone apps
~Oppertunity to completly make an original app
~Xcode is currently free on all Macs & iPads
~Semester 1 teaches basics; where as, semseter two is devoted to making an app
~Learn as you go cirriculum, previous coding knowledge not required

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