Prospect High School sophomore Jimmy McDermott was sick of waiting anxiously for the cast list to be posted for the latest school play. He hated being accidentally left off an email chain about a dress rehearsal or looking for the right place to sign up for an audition.
From those frustrations, McDermott created ProCast, a mobile app that manages high school theater productions for both students and staff members. The app, which he submitted to Apple's app store last week, was a side project for the Computer Programming: Mobile App Development class being offered for the first time this year.
"Being able to see a problem and know that you can sit down and create a solution is really amazing," McDermott said.
The class' curriculum was created by Chicago-based Mobile Makers and is being piloted at seven suburban schools this year: six in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Barrington High School.
In District 214, 342 students are enrolled, and there already is growing interest for next year, said Dan Weidner, the district's director of career and technical education.
Instead of sitting in a traditional computer lab, students with laptops and iPads move around a more flexible classroom with long tables and couches meant to inspire teamwork.
Often one student's computer will be hooked up to a big screen displaying the code being written while others gather around to help troubleshoot.
"It's no longer one person sitting behind a terminal. It's a collaborative group effort," Weidner said. "That's what it looks like out in the industry, so that's what we try to re-create here."
For their final exam, students had 75 minutes to build a class schedule app that tells them when their classes end, depending what bell schedule is in use that day.
Students now are working in groups to tweak the app. The best one will be picked by the district's administration and loaded on all students' iPads next school year.
"I love the experience," said Prospect sophomore Jamar Agnew. "It's more in-depth and hands-on than most of my other classes, and I can be more creative with my work."
Buffalo Grove High School freshmen Troy Nelson and CJ Camporese, along with classmates Eddie Morelli and Charlie Verdico, created an assignment notebook app. The project started as a simple checklist app but evolved into something students could use instead of a physical calendar, Nelson said.
Students can add assignments for various classes and get notifications when their homework and other projects are due.
"I never knew I was going to be interested in this, but once we started designing apps it was really cool," Nelson said. "Now I love doing it. It opens up so many ideas."
Teacher Paul Hennig said students will have completed nine apps by the end of the year.
Many students said they hope to continue learning programming and turn it into a career after high school.
Jack Shaughnessy, a senior at Prospect, said he plans to attend Bradley University next year and major in computer information systems with a concentration on gaming and technology.
"There's no way if you go into this field that you won't find a job," he said.