I have been toying with App Inventor off and on since it was first opened on the Google website and was very excited to hear that the project was being open-sourced and moved to MIT’s Center for Mobile Learning. It is still in limited, beta release there and I am now able access this tool with my newly created Google Apps account.
The new MIT App Inventor site seems to work like the previous Google site. You layout your app, work in the Java-based blocks editor, then package your app for installation.
I started with the Paint Pot tutorial and completed it in half an hour or so, adding a pic of myself as a small customization. Once packaged, I installed it on my phone with no problem, then turned to the table, which was a bit trickier. The app was there, but the installation kept failing. After some research on various help fora I found several recommendations for Astro File Manager, which solved the problem instantly.
With my app now up and running, it was time to show my creation to students. I showed my 5th graders what I had made and, after the initial oo-and-ah, proceeded to pass the tablet around the classroom. Paint Pot is very simple (select a color, then doodle on a picture, erase to start over) yet it held their attention for quite some time. This was not a surprise.
What was very interesting was this instant, constructive critique that they each proceeded to offer me. They suggested functional improvements (“The line is too thin.”), stylistic changes (“The colors are boring.”) and even new features (“There should be an UNDO button…and a picture picker.”)
It would have been easy to take this criticism as discouraging, but what I saw in my students was this: They have realistic expectations of toys and tools based of their own experiences. They didn’t look at this app as an experiment or trial, they examined it thoroughly and weighed it against their own experiences and expectations. They gave me their honest opinions and inspired me to update this app and begin to work on my next project soon.