Teacher Review for MIT App Inventor

Juggling the "Designer," "Blocks" and live-testing screens is confusing, but this is still the easiest means I know of programming a phone's accelerometer, text-to-speech engine, or other nifty hardware features.

Jonathan F.
Technology coordinator
St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School
Washington, United States
Show More
My Subjects English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Arts
My Rating
Learning Scores
Engagement
Pedagogy
Support
My Students Liked It Yes
My Students Learned Yes
I Would Recommend It No
Setup Time More than 15 minutes
Great for Creation
Further application
Individual
Student-driven work
Teacher-led lessons
Whole class
Great with Advanced learners
General
How I Use It
This year, I taught a 12-class mini course to all Grade 7 students about mobile app design. We used MIT App Inventor 2. Students coded on Chromebooks and used the "connect companion" feature to live-test their code on Nexus 7 Android tablets.
My Take
The biggest strength of MIT App Inventor 2 is that the simplest app you can write with it happens to be incredibly fun and to have a big "wow" factor. Of all the coding tools I've used, App Inventor provides the easiest way to take advantage of phone hardware. With just a few blocks of code, students can get their phones or tablets to do things when they shake them (i.e. when the accelerometer senses a shaking movement). And, while it might take seven or eight clicks and drags of coding to get the phone to display a message on its screen, it only takes three or four clicks and drags to get the phone to use its text-to-speech engine to actually say a message aloud. Students love it, and it opens the door to all kinds of creative inventions, including apps that can help people who might have a hard time reading or seeing text. Can I recommend App Inventor at this point, though? No. Unlike other block-based coding platforms like Scratch or Tynker, App Inventor forces students to switch back and forth between a "Designer" screen and a "Blocks" screen just to write the code. To test the code to see what they're actually doing, students need to run a separate emulator program or connect an Android phone or tablet and run the code on this separate device. That's a lot of juggling for a student who's trying to learn coding. It's also an obstacle to anyone trying to create or find a simple introductory-level tutorial that might include screenshots or step-by-step directions. Many tutorials exist, and they are quite thoughtful, but they are not simple or intuitive. My students and I also intermittently experienced technical difficulties using the wireless "connect companion" feature for live testing. The App Inventor forum wasn't able to help us find a solution. They ultimately recommended using the emulator, which at the time of my writing gets mixed reviews from other teachers writing Graphite field notes.