Common Sense Review
Updated March 2014

MIT App Inventor

Fun programming site gets kids to build their own mobile apps
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Common Sense Rating 5
  • The App Inventor opens a world of programming opportunity.
  • Tutorials take learners through a variety of interactive exercises.
  • The site's videos make it easy to learn the basics.
  • There are some teacher resources, the best of which lead offsite.
  • The App Inventor interface is easy to use right in the browser.
Students can get apps running on a phone or tablet within just a few minutes.
The tools are powerful and could be overwhelming to younger students; more teacher-tailored support would be nice.
Bottom Line
A fantastic introduction to the world of mobile programming.
David Thomas
Common Sense Reviewer
Director of academic technology
Common Sense Rating 5
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

Most kids are bound to find mobile technology cool. Learning to program mobile devices with a visual language brings coding to life in fun and empowering ways.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 5

Based on the constructivist principle of "learning by doing," students will find it a natural way to pick up new skills. The tool set gets students engaged in the act of making right off the bat, and keeps them motivated throughout.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

Video tutorials make it easy to start. PDF lessons, forums, and links to other resources open into a world of support. More on-site resources specifically for teachers would better support classroom learning.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

The MIT App Inventor site works best as a portal for getting teachers started. If you're new to programming, the quick and easy tutorials will walk you through the basics. However, when it comes time to teach this material to your students, the site generally points to other online resources, such as, which provide better options for classroom instruction and materials.

Nevertheless, if your classes are just starting, send them to the MIT App Inventor site first. It was set up as part of the Hour of Code effort, so it can make a great intro for students. For more in-depth, whole-class instruction, you may do well to follow the site's directions to the web's other resources.

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What's It Like?

The latest incarnation of the App Inventor toolset can turn novices into programmers in no time. Using a drag-and-drop, puzzle-piece interface derived from popular education programming languages like Scratch, the MIT host site (and Chrome app) provides a set of upbeat, easy-to-follow tutorials that get kids running programs on their Android phones or tablets in minutes. If students don't have an Android device, they can also use an on-screen phone emulator.

As a collaboration between Google and MIT, the App Inventor toolset was designed from the ground up as a platform for teaching programming to a non-technical audience. The MIT site provides a colorful and inviting introduction; the bright green "Invent Now" button says it all. The site provides a student-focused quick start perfect for an independent learner ready to start making apps.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Simply put, students will love creating and programming their own mobile apps. As most kids are regular users of mobile technology, the process of creating an app can help demystify this amazing piece of everyday technology. For instance, students could put together a small app that turns typed text into spoken words; this process can build kids' confidence in their abilities as budding programmers, but it can also lend to an overall sense of empowerment in their ability to learn new things.

But the secret ingredient here is real-time synchronization between the visual programming environment and a connected phone. As soon as a student puts the programming pieces in place, the app starts to run on the phone. This not only brings the idea of programming immediately to life, but it encourages exploration and experimentation; the App Inventor environment has lots of settings and challenges for kids to play with.

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