Review by Melissa Powers, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2019


No coding required -- visual app design for the rest of us

Subjects & skills
  • Arts

  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Creativity
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Novice app designers can create and publish professional-looking apps.

Cons: Teachers will need to provide significant planning and design support to ensure student success.

Bottom Line: Create authentic learning experiences for your students with app design in the classroom.

App design isn't just about designing apps. Much like making a movie or creating a game, app creation can be a great way for students to share knowledge, solve problems, and make learning fun. Because Lightwell doesn't depend on prerequisite programming skills, it can be integrated into any subject area -- not just computer science classes. Creative writers can design an app that tells a story and make it more interesting with alternate endings. Instead of writing a paper, students can share their research with an app. Do you have a unique curriculum? Recruit students to build a custom study tool for your classes.

Lightwell's support website offers lesson plans, video tutorials, and sample projects. Students can create apps from scratch or remix the sample projects to fit their needs. An app design assignment will probably work best as a group project, as it's very time-intensive. Not only can students divide and conquer, but it's also the way apps are designed in the professional world (teams of programmers, graphic artists, content specialists, etc.).

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Lightwell is a tool for creating iOS apps. Using a visual interface, not a programming language, students create real apps that can be shared with nearby devices or submitted to the Apple App Store. Lightwell is a professional tool, though students can use the software to create simple apps as they learn the lingo. Students learn how to build layers and animations, create interactions (swipe, tap), and integrate audio. Lightwell consists of two applications: Lightwell Editor for MacBook or Chromebook, which is used for developing new apps, and the mobile app (iOS) Lightwell Previewer for testing and sharing. Completed apps can be exported to Xcode and submitted to the Apple App Store (publishing an app in the Apple App Store requires an Apple Developer account, Apple approval, and an annual fee).

App design is a great tech skill for students to acquire -- or at least be introduced to -- and Lightwell's visual programming approach makes it easier, though not easy. Lightwell is a professional tool that's being adapted for the educational environment. The company has built a small library of sample projects and lesson plans, which are helpful for getting started. However, teachers will need to seek additional resources to help students through the design process.

Unfortunately, Lightwell is designed for the "old-school" lab environment; students don't create their own accounts but use a seat license. Because accessing Lightwell projects requires an active paid subscription and locally installed software, it would be very difficult for students to take their work with them or share it outside of their classroom. Even in-class collaboration is difficult, because students have to share local files and keep track of versions instead of working collaboratively in the cloud (it's like passing a DOC file back and forth instead of using Google Docs). In today's educational environment of digital collaboration, cloud storage, and e-portfolios, Lightwell has some catching up to do.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Your classroom of expert app users will love the opportunity to be app designers, though some may lack the patience to persist.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Lightwell's logical, visual approach guides students through the authentic, tedious process of building a real app.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Though Lightwell has plenty of classroom applications, the software and most support materials are designed for professionals.

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