App development in the classroom


With the new computing curriculum prioritising programming skills, Torsten Stauch argues that app development projects can help schools to inject creativity into the new programmes of study.

The government’s proposals to reform the national curriculum include the final draft of long-discussed plans for a new computing curriculum.

Under the new approach, schools will be encouraged to shape the curriculum to meet the aspirations and priorities of pupils. 

The new programmes of study are designed to equip students with basic skills with a focus on designing and writing programmes and understanding programming language.

But it overlooks one thing – how do you cater for and engender creativity and flair?

A recent report by the Institute of Education entitled, An Aims-based Curriculum, argues that setting overarching goals designed to equip every child to lead a fulfilling life should be the precursor to deciding the nature and content of a national curriculum.

Furthermore, industry leaders have long commented on the supposed failure of the education system to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed for industry, in particular in the area of ICT. 

Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt lambasted the UK’s education system for failing to teach programming in schools (a speech education secretary Michael Gove has referred to when discussing the ICT reforms). Mr Schmidt noted that the old ICT curriculum focuses on how to use software but offers no insight into how it is made. 

His comments were all the more telling because of the underlying presumption about the importance of programming skills to the wider economy and the suggestion that at some point in the not too distant future, we will all become accomplished programmers. 

It is against these criticisms and comments that the government’s recently closed consultation exercise regarding computing should be judged.

Imagination vs knowledge

It was Albert Einstein who famously said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” 

For many students, seeing the germ of an idea flourish and grow empowers them with a renewed confidence and teaches them so much more about themselves. 

As such, it is incumbent upon teachers to try and develop lesson plans that capture the passion and drive that resides in everyone and help draw it out. Nowhere is this more apparent than in app development work. There is something unique about app development that sparks the imagination and fires a student’s creativity and ingenuity. 

For teachers and education professionals alike, tailored lessons based on app development may provide the seed that engenders a spirit of discovery and engagement that ultimately can be built upon across the entire computing curriculum.

App development and creativity

The consultation paper recognises the need for students to design and write programs, so app development is a natural candidate to meet this requirement. 

Apps are commonplace among the SmartPhone and iPad generation. It therefore makes sense to tap into this common interest and use it to engage and encourage students.

The case for app development classes within the computing curriculum is a strong one, because not only does it feed the imagination and aspiration of students, it delivers practical skills and knowledge. 

App development technology has come a long way to the point where anyone can create an app with ease. However, students still need to have a basic understanding of coding. 

The challenge is how to make what is a technical task something that doesn’t deter students or dampen their enthusiasm. One approach that is proving popular is a duality system, where the user sets a manual action via a visual interface and the relevant JavaScript code appears alongside. 

Students can simply cut and paste the code and continue building their app or tweak the code to see what happens. 

Either way, the technicality of coding does not interfere with the task of building their app and, critically, they are free to work at a pace dictated solely by their imagination, creativity and enthusiasm. 

How do you engender creativity and flair? Well, a lot depends on how one defines creativity. I find Mary Lou Cook’s (an American author).

definition the most apt: “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”

App development embraces all of these elements and by its very nature draws out the disinterested, the curious, the adventurous and the visionary. It provides a building block that teachers can use to expand a student’s interest in the wider computing curriculum.


You can’t legislate for creativity and ingenuity but you can create the conditions in which it thrives. App development plays to the strengths and interests of students by tapping into something they regard as an integral aspect of their lifestyle. App development classes have the potential to engage, to challenge, and to build confidence and self-reliance in a way that few other technology subjects can.

The ability to think without limits, to conceptualise without constraints, must be the cornerstone of any modern education system. It is this that warrants app development’s place in the new computing curriculum.

Further information
For more on the report, An Aims-based Curriculum, go to


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