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Creating Your Own Mobile App

by Kathleen Casey and Brenda Archambeault
 | Jan 30, 2013
“After I practice my vocabulary cards, will you let me use your iPhone?”

This question, asked by a struggling reader, started us on the road to creating the FunDog Reading and Thinking Word Analogies app.

As reading specialists, we always have our antennae up for ways to entice students to read. We assess and focus on skill and strategy instruction to address their weaknesses and highlight their strengths. Our classroom libraries are filled with a wide range of books grouped by genres and levels, and we hold conferences with our students to learn more about them as readers.

Now, here was a loud and clear signal that the smartphone or tablet could be used as both an enjoyable learning tool and reward during school, in after school programs, or at home.

Wanting to download some literacy apps, we decided to investigate iTunes. As of September 2012, there were 700,000 IOS apps available, a quarter of which were educational or reference apps. When we began our process, just a few years ago, there was less than a third of that number, very few of which were geared for elementary readers. Most addressed early literacy: language awareness, letter, number, and color recognition.

But rather than get discouraged about not finding learning games for our students, we saw an opportunity. The news reported that everyday people designed apps. Both of us had great confidence about our skills as reading specialists, so why couldn’t we make our own?

It’s a good thing that teachers excel at multitasking, since this ability helped us launch our mobile app business. After finishing a full day of teaching or between family activities and weekend chores, we worked. There were planning walks, phone conversations, and emails. We created to-do lists, divvied up tasks, talked about our timeline, and always returned to our mission statement: create a quality engaging app that would help children become more confident, fluent readers.

There were many other aspects to consider. Wanting to learn about setting up our business, we consulted SCORE, a nonprofit association that helps small businesses get off the ground. To become familiar with Objective C programming, we took an evening course at the technical high school. One of us also enrolled in an evening Web Page Development class in order to make a presence on the Internet.

Before publishing our website (Weebly was our host), we had to apply for a domain name (www.ireadingteacher.com) on Go Daddy. By joining Moms with Apps, we gained helpful information from parents who were creating their own apps. Sonny Fazio, a high school senior who had written several apps and is now a Computer Science Major at Wentworth College, did our programming—having a talented coder like him is key.

We were also lucky to hire a designer to do the artwork and a teaching assistant who recorded FunDog’s voice. Family, teacher friends, and students volunteered to do our beta testing and give us valuable criticism.

Looking back, we were unrealistic in thinking it would be a cinch to design a game that could be completed quickly; it turns out that it was a lengthy process that took over a year.

Finally, in June 2011, our app went live. We accomplished our goal of creating a game that could help kids practice sight words and higher level thinking skills. When walking through our school, we see teachers projecting the FunDog Analogies onto interactive whiteboards or children playing with it on iPads. The app has sold in countries around the world, and we are now preparing our third creation.

Want to give designing your own mobile app a try? Here are some points to help you on your way:

  1. Identify your expertise and passion.
  2. Become familiar with the smartphone and tablet—their capabilities and why they are attractive and educationally beneficial to children. Take a class or online tutorial to broaden your knowledge about terms like user interface and functionality details.
  3. Do some market analysis. Download apps, making notes about the content, quality of design and graphics, readability, ease of use, pace, audio, effects, and overall appeal. What apps have not yet been created?
  4. Make a sequential storyboard app on paper. What does the player do and see on each page? What will motivate the player to maintain interest?
  5. Get small business support in order to learn about accounting, legal, and business protocols.
  6. Hire good people to work for you (programmer, designer, voice/sound effects person, musician, etc.) and talk with them frequently so that your vision is realized.
  7. Have extra money in your business bank account. Every feature requires time from your hired team members.
  8. Take a good look at all facets of the app once it is in the pre-publication mode, making sure that everything works as it should before the public downloads it.
  9. Create a presence online through an attractive web page and social networking site and listen to the response.
  10. Apply for a license in iTunes and monitor your sales.
  11. Promote your app through word of mouth, professional gatherings, advertising, social networks, and interviews.
  12. Get ready and think about your next app.
Kathleen Casey worked as certified classroom teacher and reading specialist for a total of 37 years in the Town of Barnstable, MA on Cape Cod. Currently, she is retired from teaching, but is still an active member of the International Reading Association, the Cape Cod Council of IRA, for which she publishes the local newsletter, and the Massachusetts Reading Association. In 2010, she received the Literacy Award from the MRA.

After raising a family and working in business, Brenda Archambeault earned her certification in Elementary and Special Education. Last year, she obtained her M.Ed. and C.A.E.S. in Educational Leadership. At the present time, she is the Title 1 Coordinator at Barnstable United Elementary School and teaches fifth grade students with reading difficulties.

Kathleen and Brenda have two mobile apps in iTunes: FunDog: Reading & Thinking Word Analogies and FunDog More: Reading & Thinking Word Analogies. They have also worked as reading consultants and have written grants for the Cape Cod Child Development Program.

© 2013 Kathleen Casey & Brenda Archambeault. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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