214@100: Students build apps, and their futures

District 214 students don't just use mobile apps. They build them. All six high schools started iOS Development courses last school year - becoming six of only seven schools nationally offering the Chicago-based MobileMakers curriculum (the seventh is Barrington High School).

More than 350 students signed up for the pilot class last year, and more than 430 are enrolled for this fall.

The effort is part of a continuing effort to create curriculum that is relevant beyond high school. It had a side benefit - interest in the app classes tripled overall enrollment in computer science courses districtwide, and more students began talking about pursuing a related major in college.

Rather than a traditional computer lab, the class worked on laptops and iPads in flexible classrooms that inspired teamwork, often projecting their work onto a large screen as they wrote code.

"This is a collaborative group effort," Director of Career and Technical Education Dan Weidner told the Daily Herald in May. "That's what it looks like out in the industry, so that's what we try to re-create here."

At an App Night this spring, students showed off apps that programmed a school's bell schedule; managed high school theater productions for students and staff; and games that included a digital Prospect Knight (the hero) trying to avoid other school mascots (the villains).

In one case, a basketball coach requested an app that could tell him which combination of players was the most productive together on the court.

By year's end, students had created nine apps and some had submitted their products to Apple's app store. "This is real, relevant education," Weidner said. "It's about preparing students for their future."

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