Innovative Course Gives Students the "Code" to Success


Western Academy of Beijing students are not just following a path to success, they're writing it – in code.

A new Grade 10 MYP Digital Design course unit at Western Academy of Beijing is fostering students' development as graphic designers and software developers. The App it Up unit, which opened to students in the 2016 spring semester, allows students to work both independently and with their classmates to plan and create a functioning mobile application for the Apple iPhone.

Applying knowledge from more "traditional" subjects such as art, mathematics, and science, students brainstorm, research, plan, design, develop and test an application for a specific target market. The unit instructors, Mrs. Madeleine Brookes, Mr. Brian McEwen and Mrs. Jennifer Simon, hope to include guest teachers from these subjects in next year's session.

The unit was developed in response to the students' increasing interest in learning to program. Our students learned to program with Swift, a powerful and intuitive programming language using the Xcode development environment, both of which are industry-standard tools. Students extended their design skills to discover the principles for creating the ultimate user experience for their app.

During the unit, students develop apps based on an idea of their choosing. This provided them with a chance to create a product that they are passionate about. Some examples of the apps ideas are:

  • Monitoring and analyzing study habits to help maximize efficiency
  • Aggregating data relevant to student's daily lives for organization
  • Giving fashion advice and information for people on a budget
  • Trialing hair styles and make-up using real pictures of the user
  • Choosing a music playlist based on a listener's current mood

Seeing the students driven and focused on their schoolwork more than ever before is one benefit teachers have seen since the course began, but there have been so many more.

Confidence in Communication Skills

"Many students are able to communicate in the 'third-language' of coding more easily than English as a second language. As a result, students who normally avoid conversation in class are speaking out -- and quite confidently at that." – Jennifer Simon

Critical Thinking Skills

"Programming develops high-level thinking skills as students have to critically analyze a problem in order to create a solution. It's hard and very challenging but so rewarding." – Madeleine Brookes

Motivation & Perseverance

"Learning an object-oriented coding language like Swift really forces students to have an appreciation for the patience and persistence required to be a software developer. There have been many days where students needed to be reminded that class was over as they wracked their brains for a solution to a coding glitch." – Jennifer Simon

Global Outreach

Plans in the upcoming school year include assembling a student CAS project team that partners with the Geek Force student club to author an iTunesU course for both local and global use.

As the course develops, stay tuned to learn more about the influential projects our students develop and more opportunities for innovative learning.