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Building Through Experiences: Should students learn by creating their own activities?

Building through experiences - TeacherCast Guest Blog

Across the board, one of the most common classroom complaints is that the information being presented has no ‘real world applications.’ Many teachers that hear this accusation coming from students can’t help but smile at their naïve-ness and strive harder to draw obvious parallels between textbook examples and young adult lives.

Fortunately, in many cases, technology is enabling educators to involve students by teaching them using modern tools. Not only that but more and more frequently, it is allowing teachers to actually put their students in the driver seat and direct their own learning. Some have relished the opportunity and used the guidance of their teachers to develop tools that are directly useful to young adults like them.

Building Technical Skills Through Experience

It isn’t any secret that one of the best ways to engage students in your classroom is to make the material directly applicable to real life. Furthermore, it is important to directly ask for student input and set objectives. National app competitions are just one-way teachers are engaging students in interactive, goal-oriented learning.

In recent years, there have been a growing number of smartphone application competitions across the nation for teachers to enter their classrooms to participate in. Competitions include the Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge, the Congressional App Challenge, or the Youth Apps Challenge. Each is designed to encourage students to design a creative and useful app and to learn the computer processing needed to make the app a reality.

Success Story: Protecting Mental Health

Amidst struggles to figure out who you are and trying to fit in, teenage years can be a particularly difficult time of life. In fact, two of the five most significant challenges that social workers face – bullying and mental health with technology – are significant issues in modern teenage life. This among other reasons is why high school students participating in an app challenge decided mental health issues would be addressed by the app they designed.

The app is Safe and Sound, which offers daily stress management suggestions and resources for students struggling with anxiety and/or depression. The app also includes a journal feature with a cool voice-to-pad technology that allows students to speak into the phone and have their words appear on the app. The five-person, all-female team won a substantial grant and tech prizes, but perhaps the most significant thing they gained were valuable skills in team collaboration, leadership, and computer programming.

Success Story: Arranging Safe Carpooling

Another app developed by students for their peers is Vroom, a ride sharing app that enables students to arrange carpooling with fellow students via text message. The app was also designed as part of a national competition, this time by high school students at Johns Creek High School in Georgia. The goal of the technology is to connect students, who often have long waits for rides to and from extracurricular activities, with other students or parents with free car space whom they may never cross paths with otherwise.

The student designers of the app say they have learned a ton about the development process as well as about marketing products and working together as a team with a common goal. They’ve also had to work with school officials to design a method of approving students and parents to drive. They feel that ultimately the app will help to develop connections between students in different grade levels and extracurricular backgrounds.


Overall, designing apps provide a good platform for educators to involve students in something they can use directly. Participating in these types of competitions develops valuable skill sets in STEM, which can make them strong candidates for whatever they pursue after graduation. Furthermore, the competitions interconnect other skills such as team collaboration, leadership and product marketing, all-powerful skills to take to the next level, whatever that may be.

Brittni Brown is a current masters candidate at the University of Idaho. In her free time, she enjoys a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, and camping.


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