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Conceptual Thinking: Conceptual Learning

ONE STUDENT AT A TIME    |   Return to Possibilities...
CONCEPTUAL THINKING Drives Student Learning

Vania Moniz shows off the Creative Coloring app she created and coded as part of the Woodbury App Creator class.

New ideas are often born out of frustration. Students in the App Creators program at Woodbury Middle School are trained to look for opportunities when faced with obstacles. For eighth-grade student Vania Moniz, this thought process inspired her to develop a Creative Coloring App.

As part of her class assignment, Moniz created a virtual coloring book targeting young children in preschool. The app provides several outlined images and allows children to tap and draw on the screen. “I was working with colored pencils drawing an interface for another project,” Moniz explains, thinking back to the moment she conceived of the app. “I couldn’t find the colored pencils I needed and thought this would be easier in an app.” Eventually, when it became time to choose a project and build an app, she channeled her inspiration toward developing something fun and productive that would be useful to young children.

“A lot of parents work full-time and their children come to daycare or preschool with iPads,” Moniz explains. “My idea was to create an app that was fun, easy to use, and productive.”

Now that she had an idea, the challenge for Moniz was in making her vision a reality. And this is what the program is all about, according to Instructor Ericka Swett. “Students are introduced to the design process and computational thinking,” Swett adds. “This involves breaking down a task or problem and dissecting the various elements. They look at a problem and ask themselves how am I going to solve this and what tools am I going to use?”

“They’re constantly looking at alternative solutions to problems,” she says of the process. “We like to refer to the four C’s – Collaboration, Cooperation, Communication, and Critical Thinking.” Swett would add a fifth C to the list – Creativity.

Swett emphasizes the importance of adding a fifth “C” -- creativity -- to the computational thinking process. “Creativity is needed in deciding how many screens you need, whether to add pull-downs or text boxes, and when to use buttons and how to make them work,” she explains. “It doesn’t always work. So perseverance and the willingness to try alternatives is key.”

In developing her Creative Coloring app, Moniz faced a number of coding challenges. In the app, you tap on a color you want to use, then use your finger to color on the image. At first, she couldn’t get the color to apply on the image where it was supposed to. Faced with this roadblock, she turned to a fellow student who had a similar issue with a previous project. “We looked back at the code she used in the other project where this worked,” Moniz explains, “and we were able to figure out how to modify my code to fix the problem.”

This collaboration is common in the class, according to Swett, and is an example of an agile software development technique known as pair programming. Two programmers work together at one workstation. One, the driver, writes the code while the other, the observer or navigator, reviews each line as it is typed in. This helps identify mistakes and examine different approaches, thus increasing the quality of the code.

Moniz hopes to continue building her coding skills as she moves on to Salem High School next year. She would like to add some additional functions to her Creative Coloring app, but is happy with what she has developed. “I think it’s fun and easy to use,” she says. “I hope to continue to learn more and build on this experience.”

Leveraging STEM Tools

Woodbury STEM classes utilize a number of available coding and development tools to enhance student learning. Here are a few examples currently being used in the App Creator class:

MIT App Inventor is an intuitive, visual programming environment that allows students to build fully functional apps for smartphones and tablets.  This blocks-based tool facilitates the creation of complex, high-impact apps in significantly less time than traditional programming environments. T

Micro:bit is a tiny programmable computer, designed to make learning easy, engaging, and fun.  Click on the image below to learn more about it.