Manila teacher and students participate in first Apps for Good Festival in Arkansas

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Manila senior Ethan Luper (left) assists sophomore Christian Booker as Booker makes his app presentation at the Apps for Good Festival held at ASMSA. (photo provided)

Manila was one of four Arkansas schools chosen to showcase their problem-solving apps at the state's first Apps for Good Festival. The event was held at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts (ASMSA) in Hot Springs on April 12.

Gerri McCann, Manila computer coding teacher, said she is proud to be part of the first Apps For Good Festival held in the United States.

Apps for Good is a United Kingdom-based education technology charity working to power a generation to change the world with technology. The organization works alongside educators to develop a free, flexible course framework that infuses digital learning with teamwork, creativity and entrepreneurship.

The four schools participating include Manila, Hot Springs High School, Dardanelle High School and Spring Hill High School. Each school is participating in the inaugural Essentials of Computer Programming Plus digital learning course at ASMSA.

McCann and two students, Ethan Luper, a senior, and Christian Booker, a sophomore, attended the festival. Ethan and Christian presented their apps.

Other Manila team members in the class who did not attend include Tad Johnson, Ryan Cole, Jerry McKaskle, Jonathan Carr and Tyler Lance.

McCann and the other instructors from the four districts are working in tandem with Daniel Moix, ASMSA's computer science education specialist, to offer the ECP Plus course on-site at their respective schools this school year. In the future, those faculty members will teach the course on their own.

The Essentials of Computer Programming Plus course is part of ASMSA's Coding Arkansas' Future initiative to provide computer science education opportunities for schools around the state. The initiative allows school districts to meet the state mandate that each district offer computer science courses for students.

Debbie Forster, co-CEO of Apps for Good, flew in from UK to address the teachers and students attending the Arkansas event.

"The Festival was amazing," McCann said. "It is the best thing I have taken students to."

Christian presented his app, a spin off of the alarm clock.

"It focuses on getting up efficiently and quickly by using your brain," Christian said. "For example answering questions, leaving an area, scanning a QR code, or even shaking the phone."

Christian said he plans to attend the festival next year.

"It was a thrilling experience but also extremely thought provoking," he said. "It promotes real life skills that will never leave you."

Ethan's app focused on homework and grades.

"It gives parents and students easy access to information on homework and grades," Ethan said.

Ethan called the Apps for Good Festival a great experience.

"It was great meeting other students and sharing ideas," he said. "We helped each other with new and better innovations."

In addition to students presenting their apps, they were able to experience a Makers Space activity (an engineering activity) at ASMSA.

McCann and her students said it was exciting to see Bob Schukai, head of applied innovation at Thomas Reuters, a technology company in the United Kingdom. He spoke at the festival from Britain via a Google Hangout session.

Schukai has skyped with Manila students during the school year.

McCann said the Apps for Good festival is not competitive giving it a collegiate atmosphere.

"Over the last five years, Apps for Good has grown in the U.K. from supporting a handful of schools and students to more than 1,100 educational institutions and more than 25,000 students in 2016," Schukai said.

While the students were meeting, the teachers in Hot Springs met and developed a plan to involve 32 schools in the Apps for Good Festival next year.

McCann said the program will be extended allowing the underclassmen to continue their work on apps or create new ones.

"Attending the Festival gave us new ideas to bring home and share," McCann said. "We have had a really good school year. Students have learned a lot and the class has been successful. Our E Essentials Class of Computer Programming Plus wrote a grant on Donor's Choose and received enough money to purchase a 3D printer."

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