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Curriculum posted to OER Commons

We’re pleased to announce that our curriculum for App Authors can now be found in OER (Open Educational Resources) Commons. The curriculum provides lesson plans and app development activities that can be used in a seven-week sequential course, in a seven-week semi-sequential course, or in one-time learning sessions. We’ll be conducting trainings in the next few months, but we are happy that even more educators and librarians will have access to our program!

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Summer Session at Douglass

This summer we implemented the App Authors curriculum at the Douglass Branch Library once again, and the program was a huge success. Lizzy led the program using our Semi-Sequential pathway, which we’ve found is best for the public library setting, and each week we covered one coding concept. Participants learned about algorithms, loops, conditionals, functions, variables, and debugging through “unplugged” lessons, coding lessons, and app creation. This year we made one change to our curriculum, and devoted one whole lesson to the design process of an app in App Lab.

This added App Lab session went really well; participants with limited or no prior experience with coding were able to plan, prototype, and code an app all within the span of the three-hour session. In fact, one participant happened to be visiting from Tennessee, so this was the only session he attended. He expressed some concern that he wouldn’t be able to create an app because he hadn’t done so well in his computer class at school, and he had never worked with before. But by the end of the session, he had managed to design and code a “myth busting” app about Rubik’s cubes, and was so proud of his accomplishments.

A few parents regularly attended sessions with their children, which turned out to be really helpful for the younger kids, and also gave the parents a chance to see what their kids were working on. One dad helped his son figure out algorithms by standing up and actually acting them out. He would use the carpet squares as a grid and say things like, “Okay, we need to move forward one step, and then turn in which direction?” It was really cool that a younger participant was able to fully engage in the program with the help of his father, and you could see the moment the algorithm finally made sense to him when his father acted it out.

We held our Showcase on the seventh week of the program, and invited the participants to bring their family and friends to see what had been created during the program. One regular participant brought in his mom and three siblings. We had enough laptops that he was able to set up each sibling with their own laptop, and each was able to play a different game that he had created during the program, kind of like an arcade. His siblings loved the games he had made, and he was really proud to show off all his hard work.

We’re looking forward to continuing our program again next year!

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Kenwood spring session wrap up

Spring session of App Authors just finished up at Kenwood Elementary in Champaign. A lot of students came into the program with ideas for apps already and then worked through paper prototyping the screens for their apps and drawing arrows to show what the buttons would do. The kids were really excited when it was finally time to start coding their apps and had a lot of fun finding images and sounds to add to their apps.

One of the coolest things that the kids figured out was adding sound to their apps. One student made a zombie app and wanted to add a screaming sound, so he actually recorded a whole group of his fellow students screaming and added it to his app! While screaming during the App Authors program would usually be cause for alarm, this time it was a great instance of collaboration 🙂

A couple apps had really good ideas behind them but weren’t able to be completed in six weeks. One student had an idea for a tutor app that would help you learn different subjects. Another had the idea to create a kind of meditation app; when you felt stressed you would just open the app and it would give you a breathing exercise to help calm you down.

“The best part of the program was definitely the Showcase,” Lizzy Issbell, App Authors research assistant, said. “The kids were so excited to show their parents the apps they had created!”

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New sessions!

We’re excited to return to Kenwood Elementary and the Douglass library in Champaign for our spring and summer sessions. Our after school program will be starting in the coming weeks at Kenwood, giving a chance for students to design and create their apps during the school’s Tech Time. At Douglass, we’ll be starting on June 11th and run through July 16th, with a showcase on the 23rd where kids will be able to show off their crafty apps to family and friends.

Volunteers are needed for both sessions. If you’re interested, please contact the Center for Children’s Books graduate assistants at

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Updates from App Authors sites

Updates from our Partner Sites

We have received helpful feedback from our partner site in Frederick County, Maryland regarding their iteration of the curriculum. The Frederick County team ran the program over the summer, and gave us useful insights into how the curriculum could be adapted for use in a public library.

Our partner site in Homer, Alaska just finished up their first iteration of the program, which began in November. Our team was unable to make it to Alaska to do an in-person training session beforehand, but Lizzy ran a training session with Homer Public Library Youth Services Librarian Claudia Haines and a teen volunteer over Zoom, a video conferencing program. The Homer team had some great ideas for their iteration of App Authors, including plans to invite native Alaskan guest speakers to talk to the participants about coding, and we are excited to hear how their program went! The Homer team is also planning to run another iteration of the program this spring.

Our partner site in Springfield, Oregon began running a teen-mentored coding class in November. Since this teen-mentor aspect strongly correlates to our future research ideas, we are greatly looking forward to gaining insights and ideas about near-peer mentoring from our Springfield team. The Springfield Public Library will also be hosting a three-day coding camp over this winter break, and we are interested to hear more about the logistics and outcomes of this condensed program.

Our partners at Kenwood Elementary School here in Champaign will be hosting another iteration of the App Authors program this spring. Lizzy Isbell will be the session leader, and sessions will take place during Kenwood’s after-school Tech Time program. I (Lizzy) am really looking forward to teaching the program again, and I look forward to the challenge of adapting my experience with teaching the curriculum at a public library to this iteration at a school library.

Our App Authors team is also currently in conversations with several potential partner sites. We are looking at bringing the App Authors program to another Illinois site and a site in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We are also potentially looking for a site in the southwest.

We’re looking forward to seeing the App Authors program run again with old friends and spread wider in the new year.

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Update from the App Authors team

Updates from the App Authors Team:

In October, Dr. Rachel Magee presented at the Digital Media & Learning Conference at the University of California, Irvine. Her presentation, titled “App Authors: Kids Designing, Creating, and Sharing Apps in Informal Learning Settings,” focused on the App Authors framework, our current curriculum and findings, and opportunities for future work in this area.

In November, Dr. Deborah Stevenson and graduate student Lizzy Isbell presented together at a Research Showcase hosted by the University of Illinois’ School of Information Sciences. Deborah spoke about the background and research aspects of App Authors, while Lizzy talked about the most recent curriculum iteration she had taught at the Douglass Branch of the Champaign Public Library over the summer.

In December, Deborah and Lizzy met with our technical design team at Pixo to discuss ideas for App Authors going forward. We talked about the importance of longevity and sustainability of the project, with particular focus on exploring various platforms for keeping the curriculum alive and easily shareable. Currently, we have materials in both Google Drive and Box folders, but our goal is to make our materials easily accessible from one platform. We also discussed creating an easy way for interested parties to find the most useful “flavor” of the curriculum based on their own time constrictions and prospective audience.

Our team has also been in conversation about the next steps for App Authors once our grant ends in fall 2018. We have discussed developing an “App Educators” program, utilizing teen mentors to teach coding to our target audience of younger children. Please let us know if your library might be interested in partnering with us to further our research in these possible next steps!

In other news, Deborah Stevenson will be talking about App Authors to an international audience in June at Princeton University’s 2018 International Symposium for Children’s Literature & the US-China Symposium for Children’s Literature.

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App Authors project moves forward at new sites

App Authors project moves forward at new sites


MEDIA CONTACT: Kate Quealy-Gainer (|217-265-0608)

Champaign, IL (January 5, 2017)—App Authors has expanded its reach beyond Champaign as programs are implemented at our partner sites in Maryland, Oregon, and Alaska. The project, developed by the Center for Children’s Books and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, aims to give young participants a chance to explore, play, and create their own apps through a child-centered curriculum. It engages kids regardless of experience level and gives them familiarity with problem solving and the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills.

In Frederick, Maryland, librarians at the C. Burr Artz library completed a two-week session of App Authors this past summer. Participants were introduced to various coding applications and terminology and then worked on coding through different online programs, including those from and the App Lab during one hour periods.

In August and December, App Authors was offered at the Springfield Public Library in Oregon. Youth services librarian LuCinda Gustavson added a new element to her use of the program, inviting teens from the first session in the summer to return for the second session to act as mentors and guides for younger participants.

Gustavson says, “The kids really became engrossed in the projects. It has given these kids a real connection to the library as the they continue to work on their apps even after the session ends, and they have stayed in contact with myself and our tech person for assistance.”

Claudia Haines of Alaska’s Homer Public Library also ran the program at her library in the fall, and plans for a spring session are underway.

The App Authors project will continue to work with those sites in the coming year and will also carry on in Champaign as dates are decided for sessions at Kenwood Elementary.

This is the second phase of the CCB’s Closing the App Gap three-year project, which addresses the app gap, the income-related disparity in young people’s access to handheld technology. The project will develop curricula for app-building in school and public libraries and will see the program repeated at the above mentioned sites plus two to five new library venues, allowing us to reach hundreds of children directly and to refine a program that other libraries can adopt for their own use. The Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the Center for Children’s Books $248,205 to support the project.

The project is led by Dr. Deborah Stevenson, Director of the Center for Children’s Books, with co-PIs Dr. Kate McDowell, Associate Professor, and Dr. Rachel Magee, Assistant Professor.

The Center for Children’s Books is a research center devoted to the study of youth, literature, and media. To learn more, visit the App Authors site at, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Douglass Session wrap up

Our summer session at Douglass Library wrapped up on July 17th with several kids showing off their apps to friends and family. Overall, the seven week program was quite successful, with a larger than expected turn out, enthusiastic participants, and the development of both useful and entertaining apps.

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Douglass Session Showcase

Our summer session at Douglass wraps our at our Showcase on 7/17 at Douglass Library, 1-2:30. The kids will be unveiling their apps (penguins, Star Wars, all sorts of fun)–don’t miss it!

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Douglass Update – May the Fourth Be with You

It was another excellent week with the kids as we talked about functions in terms of skills, and used functions to make a craft (a Jingle Bell), and then talked about functions in terms of songwriting (the chorus of a song is like a function) and used our jingle bells to sing Jingle Bells!

The group did a couple lessons on, and some of the kids had prior coding experience so they rocked out the lessons! A few kids needed a extra help, but since we had a smaller group we were able to do more one-on-one work.

The kids came up with some really cool stuff on App Lab! We’ve got one kid working on an app that has an image of Obi Wan from Star Wars that changes size when clicked and says “May the force be with you.” Although, perhaps today it should be “the fourth.”



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