My son attended a camp last summer in iPhone/iPod app development, and will be going again this summer.  He had a great time, and came away from the experience with a simple, fun app he made, and the ability to jail break iphones, which seemed pretty impressive for a 13 year old.   As a result, I began to start thinking about whether teaching app development was possible for an after school program I volunteer for, called After The Bell.

I started looking for books, and came across O’Reilly’s latest book on development called Tap, Move, Shake- Turning Your Game Ideas into iPhone and iPad apps by Todd Moore.   O’Reilly was kind enough to forward me a review copy, and I have read it and shared it with the tech director in our school district as well.

The book is well suited to beginners, but proved to be a bit difficult for our after-school program idea.  First of all, in order to start app development, you need to have a copy of XCode for the Mac and a computer to run it on.  This is great if you can spend the $99 to get the software at home, but harder to justify across multiple computers owned by the school district, especially for an after school program for middle school students that runs for 6 week sessions, two hours per session, for three  six week sessions a year.  So our issues were not in the content of the book, which is fantastic and easy to work through, but through the logistics of how our program runs.

I think the book would be a great textbook for a full semester elective class  for high school students, who want to learn not only game and app development, but programming and computer-based logic.  It would actually be great to be used adjunct to a physics class, where students could learn to program the puck/hockey game demonstrated in the book, along with learning physics of motion and the math involved at the same time.

Tap, Move, Shake is a great, step by step book to help folks get a handle on app development, the concepts of game design and more.  I think it’s geared towards upper high school and adults rather than middle school kids, and it’s made me rethink how I want to approach teaching kids about computer programming.  As a volunteer for an after school program, making sure the curriculum meets the time constraints, budget constraints, and tech availability issues requires a tightrope walk.  Tap Move Shake helped me figure out what was possible and what was clearly beyond the scope of what we could get done in such a short period of time, but it also opened my eyes up to what could be a semester long, innovative and exciting course in our school.

I think kids can be developers, and it’s particularly important to teach those who are interested skills early on.  It’s also exciting to see them realize how complicated games are behind the scenes as they start programming.  Even on “do it yourself”  drag and drop apps like Game Salad, kids start to have a deeper appreciation about how much goes into a game, from rules to physics, to boundaries and scoring- things that are easy to take for granted from a player’s perspective.

Our challenge becomes one, not of whether or not kids can be developers, but whether we have the teachers and resources available to turn this into an elective for the students in our district.  That’s a harder task than working through Todd’s book, which is a pleasure and opened up many ideas for what might be possible.

Many thanks to Todd Moore for his great book, and to O’Reilly for helping us get our ducks in a row.