Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?

GUEST COLUMN | by Keith Polkinghorne

CREDIT Conduit Mobile educationWith the recent boom in mobile app creation and development, there’s no denying mobile technology’s educational potential. With that in mind, I recently set out to connect my fifth-grade technology students with relevant real-world activities in an innovative way. Since many of my students already have a smartphone or tablet of their own, I decided to have each student build their own mobile app.

My students were not quite ready to code, so I used Conduit Mobile’s do-it-yourself app-making platform, which I chose mostly for its user-friendliness. The user interface is simple to navigate, and the in-app preview is very impressive. Conduit also allowed the students to have the app displayed as they built it, enabling them to see the immediate outcome of their work. My students enjoyed the ability to test their apps with on-screen imagery on Apple and Android phones and tablets.

It didn’t take long before my students were using some of the advanced design tools and customizing their own apps.

Finding a source of inspiration for our app-building project was easy: The Ariens Company, a leading manufacturer of outdoor power equipment, is headquartered in our small town, and many of my students have family members who work there. Connecting our project with a local manufacturer was the icing on the cake, as it gave my students a chance to experience the company’s history and further explore the products they produce. I was elated to know that we could be the first people to make an app for Ariens.

The purpose of the project was to have every fifth-grade student create their own app. First, each student created an account that could be accessed from both school and home. Then, I gave them some tips on using advanced search options and explained the differences between .jpg and .png files. This helped the students create a bank, a collection of images that could be used to create their unique app. We also discussed URLs and quick ways to copy and paste them. Soon, students were ready and eager to see their own Ariens apps come to life.

Since every student has his or her own diverse range of skills, I had the challenge of keeping every one of them involved in app creation for the whole class period. I decided to make some of my own video tutorials that would take them through each of the day’s tasks, which they could use while I devoted time to individuals in the classroom. It didn’t take long before my students were using some of the advanced design tools and customizing their own apps.

After each student was comfortable with the app-building process and had created their own version of an app for Ariens, we decided to make a group app that combined the look, feel and feature sets from different examples. Having four different classes of fifth-graders gave me some prototypes to take back to the company for their expert opinion. Once the Ariens team chose the style they preferred, all of the classes made corrections to the group model that will become the final version.

As we near the project’s completion, we’ll be taking the final app back to the design team at Conduit to give it an edge for our target audience, before delivering the final product. Ariens will then have an app developed by students in their small town—app users and developers of the future—who will have had a uniquely memorable learning experience.

Keith Polkinghorne is the Technology Instructor at Brillion Elementary School in Brillion, Wisc. Write to: or follow him @polkbrillion 


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