Apps for Good

  • Apps for Good

Thanks to an innovative creative learning programme, teens are designing, developing and even launching apps to make their world a better place – could your students join them?

I am Rebecca Jilks, 16, and together with my brother Ben, 14, I go to the Boswells School in Essex. Last year our fantastic computer teacher decided to run an after-school club offering the Apps for Good programme – the aim of which is to “build a new global generation of problem solvers and makers: students who can create, launch and market new products that change the world”.

The course taught us about the different types of apps available to a consumer and their many uses; with a strong practical element, too. Students work in teams, so as my brother is a keen programmer and I love design, we decided to collaborate. We were then encouraged to think of some everyday problems, and test our solutions out using market research. As part of the programme we also got to speak to industry experts, who gave us ideas and guidance.

Elements of success

We both think chemistry is very interesting, but found the periodic table quite daunting and a little dull at first, so we thought of a game where a player can explore a world to find hidden elements, learn interesting facts about them and then create simple compounds. After some more market research, which included looking at existing chemistry apps, we were then into the final stage of creating a video pitch to sell our app. With Ben’s IT skills we decided to make a short animated video with images of how we thought the game would look. We called our app My World of Atoms.

At the end of the course, we had the chance to enter our app into a competition with the prize of having it professionally developed and launched on Google Play. Much to our delight, out of over 22,000 students that took part with 700 hundred entries, we got through the final 18! We had to get a ‘pitch’ together using PowerPoint to promote our app. Both my brother and I are very shy and quiet, but a local businessman kindly came to the school to give us advice on how to best approach the day.

The 18th of June 2015 was non-stop. We woke up early, got the train to London and headed for the Barbican where we met all the finalists. There were four tech industry leaders and high profile experts who watched our video, listened to our ideas, and bombarded us with questions. We then went to the ‘market place’ where over 200 professionals from all sorts of companies asked us more questions. Finally, we all crowded into the theater for the winners to be announced… and discovered that we had won our category! We were so happy that we couldn’t stop smiling all the way back home.

Almost immediately we got lots of media interest and appeared in local papers; I even went on BBC Essex Radio to tell the listeners about our app. But now this was where the hard work really started. We were introduced to Simon, our fantastic games developer, who began to bring our idea to life. We had lots of meetings during and after school, and spent evenings and weekends making sure we were happy with the game.

When the app was at a stage it could be played on phones and tablets, we had a trial session at our school and found children aged between eight and 13 enjoyed and benefited from the app the most.

Going places

As My World of Atoms is a science based game, we were lucky enough to be offered a stall at the Colchester Big Bang event in December 2015. Before the day, I designed leaflets and a banner that our school kindly had printed for us. At first we found it very embarrassing promoting our app, but as the day went on it became much easier and more enjoyable talking to students and teachers, and we got great feedback.

The official launch was 4th February and in the first three weeks My World of Atoms (free, with no ads) had over 300 downloads, which was fantastic. Teachers say they love the app, but we’ve found not so many schools have android tablets. Now we are going to phase 2 and fund raising for a launch on the IOS App Store, which we hope to have ready for schools in May.

We have had to fit everything around our GSCE studies, but have really found the whole process so valuable. For example, we are both much more confident now speaking to new people and professionals. The many contacts we have made also helped Ben get a great work placement – and believe it or not, I have my first commission to design a logo for a company, whilst still in year 11!

For information, visit appsforgood.org