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New club teaches Shaler students how to create mobile apps

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Shaler Area High School teachers are pushing students to look past simply using apps on their phones to creating mobile apps.

This year, the high school faculty created the a mobile app club, which introduces students to Processing, a programming language based on Java to create mobile apps. The success of the club led administrators to the creation of the mobile applications technology class, which is new for the 2014-15 school year.

“It pushes the kids to a different level of creativity; they are actually producing a product,” said Bryan O'Black, director of curriculum and technology. “It gives our students an opportunity to focus on the innovation then actually learning the process to do that to develop a final product.”

Currently, senior Josh Megahan and sophomores David Berdik and Matt Johnson are working in a group to develop a 3D entertainment app.

“We use technology, but we don't think of it as something we can create,” Megahan said. “But, it's like any other art form. Anyone can do it.”

Megahan took a course in the computer language Visual Basic, and the aspiring computer programer wanted to learn Java but couldn't fit it into his class schedule.

“That's why I'm here — to get a little Java experience,” Megahan said. “It's given me a start in a whole new language.”

Shaler Area's mobile app club started in the fall with a series of after-school field trips to Mars Area High School.

Rob Case, a Mars Area High School teacher, helped to form a mobile app club at Mars during the 2012-13 school year through a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, Winchester Thurston School and South Fayette High School staff.

The success of the club led to the creation of two new programming courses at the high school.

During the Shaler Area students' visits to Mars Area, the Mars Area club members gave tutorials in the basics of coding and Processing to help Shaler Area students form their own club.

But Paul Sorby, one of the club's faculty sponsors, said it was the Shaler Area students who caused the club to succeed at the high school.

“Their enthusiasm for it is what got it out of Mars and back to Shaler,” Sorby said. “We know we have these types of kids here with these abilities, and to have the class at Shaler gives them that opportunity to come in and experiment with what they're already good at.”

Lisa Klugh, a club faculty sponsor, said the club and next year's introductory-level mobile app class will acquaint students with the process of creating an app. Students are asked to come up with an idea, spend time developing it and create a storyboard before they even start programming.

“We're trying to get students involved in something they've never seen before or options that they wouldn't have elsewhere,” Klugh said.

Both the club and the new class fit into the high school administration's focus on ways to incorporate additional opportunities for science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM, into the curriculum.

The high school administration recently created a STEAM advisory committee of 15 teachers, high school administrators and community leaders to focus on enriching and building the STEAM disciplines at the high school.

“One of our goals in the district this year and (for the past) several years is to create an innovative learning environment where they move from conceptual framework to application, and I think this is what we're looking to happen (with this club and the creation of the class),” O'Black said.

“They're actually going out there imagining ideas and have the opportunity to put them into place. They'll eventually create products they can go out there and market and consumers can buy.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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