The 2019 My LA2050 Grants Challenge has started!

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learn / 2016

APP Academy: Mobile, Web and Game Development for High School Students

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Pasadena Educational Foundation

The APP Academy is a four-year computer science education program where high school students learn mobile, web and game development through real-world, inquiry-based, hands-on projects.


Are any other organizations collaborating on this proposal?

1. Pasadena Unified School District, 2. Pasadena Chamber of Commerce

Please describe your project proposal.

The APP Academy is a collaboration of the Pasadena Educational Foundation and the Pasadena Unified School District, designed to teach computer science to high school students from diverse backgrounds and prepare them for success in college and career. The 4-year program delivers a project-based learning experience where students learn programming by creating their own websites, games and mobile apps. Started in 2012, it graduated its first class of students in 2016, who are now all in college.

Which of the learn metrics will your proposal impact?​

  • College completion
  • College matriculation rates
  • Student education pipeline

In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • San Gabriel Valley

Describe in greater detail how your proposal will make LA the best place to learn?

Technology is creating new opportunities for youth to reach their full potential and to lead fulfilling and successful lives. By the year 2020 it has been estimated that 1.4 million computing jobs will be created in the US, but there will only be 400,000 people qualified to take them. LA will be the best place to learn when all students have the opportunity to learn, succeed, and compete in this growing field.

The goal of the APP Academy is to teach computer science to high school students from diverse backgrounds and prepare them for success in college and career. The 4-year program delivers a project-based learning experience where students learn programming by creating their own websites, games and mobile apps using industry-leading tools. The project is taught by two credentialed teachers who have been selected for their knowledge of the field, their ability to connect with young people and their enthusiasm. Each has a BS in Computer Science and two advanced degrees.

Pasadena Unified School District serves an economically and culturally diverse student population. 66% are low-income; 59% are Latino; 18% White; 13% African-American; 7% Asian; and 3% other.

The APP Academy has its home on the campus of Pasadena High School where, in addition to their computer science classes and project, Academy students experience a complete high school education, from English to arts and music. The curriculum includes field trips to places like JPL, Art Center College of Design and Microsoft’s LA offices, and guest speakers from Caltech and Idealab.

APP Academy classrooms are designed to emulate a high-tech start-up experience. They have laptops for every student, comfortable seating, spacious desks, large monitors along the walls, and space for group work in the center. The rooms are painted an attractive blue and the walls are lined with cartoons, video game art, and in one room, a rotating display of top-quality work created by the students.

The course sequence begins in grades 9 and 10 with students learning HTML, CSS, JavaScript and C# to develop web applications. In grade 11, they create their own mobile app, which combines computer science concepts – algorithm design, object-oriented programming, and database design and integration – with programming techniques. In grade 12, students apply advanced programming concepts to advanced web development, 3D game development and the ‘Internet of Things.’ The program culminates with seniors designing and developing their own Capstone Projects, either in groups or independently. The 2016 Capstone Projects included: an R2D2-inspired robot, designed to inspire younger students to become interested in computer science; ‘To Protect and Serve,” a story-based game that serves to shed light on the experience of African-American youth; and Star Gazers, a wearable product that allows users to locate constellations in the night sky (see the uploaded image for details about the student and her project.)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.​

Success is measured by the number of students engaged and the quality of their experience. For example, following the graduation of the first class of 17 seniors in 2016, there are currently 297 students enrolled in the APP Academy in grades 9 through 12. We also strive for cultural, economic, and gender diversity among the students.

As the project graduates more students in the future, we will also quantify achievement using college matriculation and completion rates, and success of APP Academy alumni in their chosen fields.

We define success by what the students are able to achieve. Students are assessed formally (i.e,. through project reviews, grades, and scores on AP Computer Science exams) and informally (i.e., through observation and one-on-one meetings) throughout the year by the teachers. Students and parents also complete surveys and feedback forms that have been used to assess and improve the instructional methods, curriculum, course sequence and assignments.

The quality of teaching and learning in the APP Academy classrooms is also reviewed by PUSD and Pasadena Educational Foundation leadership and by observations by visiting industry leaders.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money
  • Volunteers
  • Advisors/board members
  • Publicity/awareness
  • Education/training
  • Technical infrastructure (computers etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Network/relationship support