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Welcome Taylor!

We’ve got a new fabulous graduate assistant working with us this semester and she’s joining the team just as we begin to diversifying our reach out to new schools and communities. We asked Taylor to introduce herself and tell us a little bit about her:

What is your background?

I graduated with a Bachelor in Arts degree from Franklin College (2016) where I majored in history with a minor in American studies. Before starting the MSLIS program at the University of Illinois, I taught English as a learned language to elementary and junior high school students in Kuji, Japan for two years. My experience working as a teacher influenced my decision to concentrate on youth services, international librarianship, and public policy while attending the iSchool.

What brought you to the iSchool?
I was drawn to the MSLIS program at the iSchool for the flexibility and customization of the master’s program. As someone who has a diverse range of interests, I thought that the courses and opportunities offered by the iSchool would best fit my scholarly goals.

What drew you to the App Authors project?
After working in a school environment for two years, I developed a passion for teaching for and learning with young people. The App Authors project provided the unique opportunity to not only facilitate digital skill building in youth but to collaborate with community partners in schools and public libraries.

What experience do you hope to get out of the project?
I hope to be able to not only improve my community engagement skills but to also help produce and disseminate comprehensive research about the project.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, something quirky or interesting.

I love hiking! My New Years resolution for this year is to try and visit as many national parks in the Midwest as I can.


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Farewell, Lizzie!

Our fabulous graduate assistant Lizzie Isbell will be leaving us at the end of this semester to begin her student teaching and complete her MSLIS degree. We couldn’t be more thrilled for her, but we will miss her dearly. Before she left, though, we got to say one last goodbye and ask a few final questions, and she gave us a rundown of her experience with App Authors and what skills from the project she hopes to bring forward with her as she enters the professional field.

What drew you to the project?
I only knew a little about App Authors until I got an email that they were looking for someone to teach the sessions. I thought it sounded like a really great opportunity to get some teaching experience and coding experience, so I said yes!

What did you find most valuable about the experience?
I came into this program with a little coding experience and very little teaching experience, so this has been a great opportunity for me to learn new things! Since I want to be a K-12 librarian, the teaching experience has been incredibly valuable for me. It’s also been very cool to learn more about coding; many schools are now adding coding into their curricula, and I love that I can teach the kids a few things, and then they just dive in, create, and discover new ways of doing things.

Any challenges?
My biggest challenge was feeling ready to teach the program. I came into the App Authors project with no coding experience, and I felt like I needed to be an expert before I could teach coding to kids. I did a lot of coding practice on before each session so that I would feel prepared to teach. However, the great thing about App Authors is that you can teach it with very little background knowledge. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to answer questions about coding, but in reality all the kids I’ve worked with have been great problem solvers. If they ever asked me a question that I couldn’t answer, we could usually figure out the answer together.

What was your favorite part? Do you have a favorite app that came out of the project? Did you create any app yourself?
I have so many favorite parts of this program. Most of them involve the reactions from children when they create something amazing. One participant was worried that he wouldn’t be able to create an app, because he hadn’t done very well in his coding class at school. We walked through the planning and designing process together, and by the end of the session he was telling me that I was the best teacher ever, and showing off his completed app. I just love when kids have fun with the process, and end up discovering that they’re capable of more than they thought.

One of my favorite apps that came out of the program was a “choose your own adventure” style game. Users were given two options on each screen, and based on the action they selected, they would be sent to the next screen with a new set of options. A game like that requires a lot of planning, and I was really impressed with the outcome!

I created a few practice apps in preparation for teaching this program, and one of my favorites was the “Pet the Dog” app, where I uploaded a photo of my dog Remy, and users would tap it repeatedly to see how many times they could pet the dog in ten seconds.

What’s next for you?
This spring, I will be student teaching to complete my MSLIS degree! I will have two student teaching placements during the spring semester, one in St. Joseph and one in Mahomet. After that I’ll graduate and hopefully find a great job!

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App Authors was a hit at Champaign Library’s Hour of Code!

The App Authors project joined Champaign Public Library in kicking off Computer Science Education week and it was an absolute smash, for both the kids and our staff! We staffed one of the five stations with two activities: participants could either play our “Conditionals with Dice” game or add to our collaborative Play Lab app.

The Play Lab station was a collaborative activity where participants worked together on the app on a laptop, with a library volunteer helping them along the way. The resulting app can be found and played on! Players act as a ghost, and get different amounts of points for catching different characters.

The IRL Conditionals with Dice game is always a fun time, but the commands this time got crazier than ever! A roll of the dice calls for an action (i.e. “If I roll a three, clap your hands. Else, spin around) and this time the kids gave some truly goofy things for the App Authors staff do to, including disco dancing, singing scales to each table, and even fortune telling.

The three-hour event included several other stations, including a try-it-out station, a binary station where participants used beads and binary code to make a bracelet with a secret code, a Makey-Makey station, a LittleBits station, and an Ozobots station.

We were thrilled to be part of such an exciting program and to see more kids find success and fun in learning coding concepts and get a chance for hands-on design.

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App Authors at Champaign Library’s Hour of Code

Kick off Computer Science Education Week with App Authors at the Champaign Public Library! App Authors will be staffing one of several tables during the library’s Hour of Code and running two app creating and concept activities. We’ll be making a collaborative app on a laptop: each kid will get to add a feature to the app and there will be a QR code for people to scan and play the app as it develops. We will also have an unplugged activity with giant dice and silly instructions to introduce kids to the “if/then” concept. The event is Sunday, December 2, from 1 to 4 pm. Check out the Champaign Public Library calendar for more info.

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September’s Press Release

Summer sessions wrap up and fall trainings begin for App Authors project


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

Champaign, IL (September 26, 2018)—After finishing up another successful summer program at the Douglass Branch of the Champaign Public Library, the App Authors project now moves onto facilitating curriculum training in several schools and libraries throughout Illinois.

This past summer, App Authors implemented a seven-week program designed to give young participants a chance to explore, play, and create their own apps through a child-centered curriculum. Similar to last year’s program, these sessions helped participants learn about algorithms, loops, conditionals, functions, variables, and debugging through “unplugged” lessons, coding lessons, and app creation.

The project has seen success at several sites, including those in Champaign, Alaska, Maryland, and Oregon. Particularly exciting now is the public launch of the App Authors curriculum on Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons at, in a clear and shareable format. 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.

“The curriculum gets better every time we teach it,” says Deborah Stevenson, PI of the project and director of the Center for Children’s Books. “We’ve been especially gratified at family participation in the recent public library iteration; siblings and parents have been teaching and learning alongside our target participants, and kids who’ve started a session uncertain about coding have been thrilled to develop real confidence and competence.”

Beyond the online curriculum, App Authors staff will be providing trainings for several schools in Illinois, and programs will continue to run at current and new sites.

This is the third phase of the CCB’s App Authors: Closing the App Gap three-year project, which addresses the income-related disparity in young people’s access to technology by bringing it to them in public and school libraries. We have fulfilled our goal of building a curriculum for coding apps in in school and public libraries and have repeated the program at venues across the country, allowing us to reach hundreds of children directly and to refine a program that other libraries can adopt for their own use. We have received a no-cost extension and will be training a new cohort of librarians to lead sessions through 2019. 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.


Contact Kate Quealy-Gainer at or 217-265-0608 for further information about App Authors.

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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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