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App-building students bring tech to Hogeye

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    Students from various grades worked on Hogeye app and other ideas during Elgin ISD’s summer coding camp in July. Here, a group of middle-schoolers are working hard on their project. File photo

Nowadays, people use smart-phone apps for just about everything—from playing games and connecting with friends to keeping up with the news and figuring out where to go. This year, Elgin students used the power of apps for another purpose: keeping Hogeye attendees informed.

This year, students from various grade levels spent a week of their summer break at Neidig Elementary School for Elgin ISD’s first coding camp, during which time they were challenged by community organizations and businesses from the Chamber of Commerce to the Clever Tiger to make apps that they could use to solve a problem. Then, the students would design, build and present a prototype of an app. One such task was offered by Elgin director of community services Amy Miller: creating an app for the Hogeye Festival.

One group of eight students, ranging from incoming fourth-graders to incoming eighth-graders led by Elgin Middle School computer science teacher Patience Blythe, took Miller up on this challenge. According to Blythe, two younger girls from the group really took charge and led the work on the project.

“What was cool was the boys really listened to them and took direction from them,” she said. “A lot of times, we get nervous about mixing grade levels; we think the older ones are going to be mean to the younger ones. It actually turned out that the younger ones led the project.”

The students worked with an Apple program called Keynote, which helped them design the layout of their app and links between its pages. They then presented this proof-of-concept app at the end of the summer camp. Then, Elgin ISD coordinator of digital learning Patrick Reid took the students’ work and put it into a program called Glide, which turns a spreadsheet into a usable app.

“As we got closer to Hogeye, we realized that they had done such a good job—they had really created all the app pages—so we just went ahead and published it as a live app,” Blythe said. “They were so excited that their project had become a real asset. People could actually download (the app).”

Reid said he sees the students involved in computer science at Elgin ISD are being challenged, and experiences such as building apps teach them to have pride in their work and their ability to accomplish things.

“They’re getting that pride that is worth something,” he said. “That spark is given to these kids. It’s something that they might get in football, they might get in band, they might get in math class.”

According to Reid, the app was used a little under 300 times, with about 700 views on the app’s web page. Considering the app wasn’t in an app store, he was impressed by this amount of usage.

Miller said, while print materials for Hogeye will still be distributed and the information on the app is still on Facebook and the city’s website, having this information in an app is an engaging way to communicate and is a new way to share information.

“The reality is, these phones that all of us seem to constantly have in our hands are, for a huge part of the population, the first choice for how to get information,” Miller said. “If we’re making it easier and more accessible and more engaging to the community, then that’s important.”

Another challenge Miller presented to the students in July was an app to guide users through a walking tour of downtown public art. Recently, Miller came back to the teachers to talk about moving forward with this second app.

The app could point out the murals in the downtown district, such as the new horned lizard mural behind Depot Street, as well as decades-old advertisements known as “ghost murals,” Miller said. These old signs, some of which can be found at The Owl and Liberty Tree Tavern, were like the billboards of the early 1900s but are now an artistic part of the downtown area, she said. A downtown art app could help people know about these murals and learn more information about them.

“Hopefully, that would increase everybody’s awareness of (the murals and ghost murals),” Miller said.

Blythe said the participation happening not only from the students, but the community, is a strength for the schools and the city.

“This is a way to really actively engage the kids with their own community, and that’s really valuable in a community that’s so spread out,” she said. “I’m really excited to see where they go with it, and I want to help them along the way.”