Tony Parkin joins the celebrations for five years of Apps for Good
Regular readers will know that here at Agent4Change.net we have been enthusiastic followers of the Apps for Good programme since its pilot days. It still came as a shock to realise that this year’s awards event (on February 4) also saw Apps for Good celebrating its first five years in schools.
Since it was first launched in 2010 at Central Foundation Girls School with 25 students, the course has been delivered to more than 50,000 students, in more than 1,000 schools across the UK, and now internationally.
To celebrate this landmark, seven winning teams of students from across the UK gathered together at the Podium, in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to mark the official launch of their award-winning apps on to the market. And heading for the ‘celebrated landmark’ of the huge Kapoor 'helter skelter', now more properly called the ArcelorMittal Orbit, did feel suitably celebratory. Though losing £10,000 a week may not be something for those running Orbit to celebrate, it still makes for a great venue. Roll on the addition of those helter-skelter slides to improve the cash flow...
'Carefully orchestrated student development and confidence building'
Now it is difficult to convey just how celebratory these events are without sounding too gushing. So I’ll probably just gush. Apps for Good sure know how to throw a party to make the winning teams feel special, appreciated and valued. All part of the carefully orchestrated programme of student development and confidence building.
And with attendance from teachers, sponsors, alumni, fellows (of which more anon), the industry representatives and a whole range of supporters and sponsors, plus the media, the students certainly experience what it is like to be the centre of attention and interest. They don’t so much have to sing for their supper as talk relentlessly, as they are bombarded with questions from the many interested visitors.
The winning apps being celebrated this time include:
- My World of Atoms, an adventure game to help students master the periodic table
- MySoundClash, allows users to connect multiple phones to get a bigger sound
- Assemble Jobs, finds local jobs that fit around students’ schedules
- BOOKd, helps teens discover and share new books by creating book clubs with friends
- GardenKing, take a photo of any flower in your garden and identify it instantly
- weKonnekt, connecting young carers with local resources and support
- One Click Politics, helps get young people tuned into politics.
These teams, all composed of students aged between 12 and 18, had each won their categories at the national Apps for Good Awards back in June 2015. Since then, the winning teams have been working with agency partners to professionally develop their concepts. And now, at this event, they finally launched the professionally-polished apps on the Google Play app store.
When I arrived, each team was already snowed under with visitors, so I turned to some of the proud teachers watching their charges handle the media scrum. Kris Spencer is from Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, and supporting a GardenKing team including girls that reminded me that it was a long time since I started my teaching career at the then all-boys Latymer Upper School.
Standing with him was Chris Aitken, back again from Wick High School at the northern-most tip of Scotland, with another winning team, One Click Politics. Kris and I had been chuntering a little at the time it had taken us to get to the Olympic venue from venue from west London, but we both went rather quiet on hearing of Chris and the team’s epic journey from Wick, including a two-and-a-half-hour drive, narrowly avoiding a landslide, to an airport from which they could fly down to Gatwick.
The importance of friendship groups for team and app building
Chris Aitken and Wick High have produced several winning Apps for Good teams over the years, though this time, unusually for Wick, his winning team is composed only of boys. This led into a long discussion about the various aspects of all-boy, all-girl, and mixed team
The key point that emerged was just how important friendship groups are in successful team and app building, since getting on with one another and communicating well is far more important than a shared gender when it came to making Apps for Good projects work. Apps for Good always excels at achieving a gender balance throughout its staff, mentors and teams, and invariably sends out a strong message that technology is for both sexes.
Communicating well was certainly more important than agreeing for John Sutherland and Konrad Szewczyk (pictured), the Wick High students who produced One Click Politics, as became clear when I finally got to speak to them. Having found themselves constantly debating and discussing politics from opposite ends of the political spectrum, the one thing they did agree upon was that it was sad that their friends and peers felt divorced from the subject. So they united to create an app to help overcome that reluctance, and One Click Politics was born.
By contrast, talking to Clodagh and Sophie, part of the GardenKing horticultural app team from Latymer Upper School, explained that their app had a rather less heated origin. Though again it was born out of lively discussions, this time between gardeners arguing over plant identification. Intrigued by the challenges that this presented, and being smart enough to approach RHS Wisley, not too far down the A3, allowed the four team members to harness the JustVisual API to produce an app that hopefully will end those plant ID arguments for ever.
Hard to find part-time jobs so built app for employers
Addressing pragmatic needs much closer to home, the Assemble Jobs team, Eve, Ben and Josh from Priestley College, Warrington, knew just how difficult it was for students like them to get part-time jobs. Instead of moaning about it, they went out to talk to both employers and students to find out what each needed of the other, and then built an app that hopefully helps them match both their needs.
A similar gap had been identified by the WeKonnect team from Luton, who knew that there were 700,000 young carers out there with only minimal, scattered support to help them. Luay explained how they had pulled together case studies, opportunities to socialise and dedicated forums into a one-shop stop app that aimed to meet all a young carer’s needs. Including neat touches like automated hands-free contact during an emergency so that the carers hands were free to attend to their charges.
Luay admitted that at the start the app was just another project that wasn’t being taken very seriously. But as the team realised what hard work could achieve, the app moved from being a one hour on one day after-school project to being an everyday focus that had them really engaged.
Each of the teams had similarly interesting tales to tell, having completed the Apps for Good course then winning their category during the previous 2014/15 academic year. The course, delivered as ever by teachers in their schools, with mentoring support from the industry, had provided students with the opportunity to turn their bright ideas into technology products. And the winning had meant the subsequent creation of professional versions of these products for inclusion in Google Play. Throughout the evening, students showcased these winning apps alongside their supporting sponsors: Samsung, TalkTalk, Thomson Reuters, Essence, SAP, Barclaycard and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Among the audience and acting as helpers was an enthusiastic bunch of t-shirted students who had previously been involved with the Apps for Good programme, and were still keen to remain engaged. This continued enthusiasm has led to the creation of the Apps For Good Fellows programme, which offers continuing opportunities to help these students take forward their ideas and interests into their digital future. One of the best-known faces among these Fellows is Mohima Ahmed, one of those original students from Central Foundation Girls School, who still regularly attends these events, though sadly without her fellow-Fellow Amarah, who couldn’t make it this time.
Fellows acknowledge debt to programme
The evening concluded with a few short speeches, and Mohima’s opening remarks showed just much this programme is making a difference to the students it supports. Acknowledging the debt she owed Apps for Good, Mohima also showed how far she had come by first modestly but proudly telling us of the recognition she has received since her participation, before gently teasing the next speaker, the awesome Bob Schukai, of Thomson Reuters.
I know I wasn’t the only one with a mistiness in the eye at this point – Mohima’s confidence and banter, followed by Bob’s relaxed passion, represent just how inspiring the Apps for Good programme is for all involved. When people speak of the Apps for Good "family" they aren’t exaggerating, and a wonderful extended family it is. Apps for Good’s elected chairman, Charles Leadbeater, again spoke from the heart, while in the crowd Iris Lapinski, founder of Apps for Good, having opened proceedings now remained characteristically out of the limelight among the crowd, but enjoying the success of her digital offspring.
Finally, co-CEO Debbie Forster, brought the evening to a close. “We have some amazing apps this year. At the awards in June, the teams had such fantastic and original ideas that we weren't even sure if technology would be able to keep up with them! It is the combination of the vision of young people and the passion of teachers and professionals that really brings technology to life.
''We are delighted to be celebrating five years of Apps for Good. In 2010 we launched in one school, with the goal to power a generation to change their world with technology. In the five years that have followed we have reached over 50,000 students in more than 1,000 school across the UK and internationally.
"We are extremely proud of the thousands of young entrepreneurs who have developed their digital and 21st century skills while using technology to solve real world problems. We're already excited about working with thousands more students over the next five years and continuing to show just how much our young people are capable of achieving."