#152 – Creating Student “Appreneurs,” with Alefiya Master

Unpacking Education January 25, 2023 35 min

Kids today are more than just digital natives. “They’re mobile first,” observes our guest, Alefiya Master—a former teacher and the founder and CEO of MAD-learn. “That’s the first device that they learn how to use before they get to a computer. So let’s use that hook. Let’s leverage that hook to enable them to come into the computer science world, come into the world of creating as opposed to just consuming.”

An introduction to computer science goes beyond opening up career opportunities for students. It helps them better understand the technology with which they interact on a daily basis, and it can open them up to a new world of creativity and problem-solving. These opportunities can serve as cornerstones in helping students develop their growth mindsets. Throughout this episode, we discuss how app development can be used as a way to hook students into computer science and help them develop transferable, lifelong skills.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

Joseph Chilton Pearce, author


The following resources are available from AVID to discover more about the various components of the AVID Open Access website:

Be a “Preneur,” Any “Preneur”

Our guest calls herself an “edupreneur,” an educator who looks for ways to solve problems in education. She calls students who create apps “appreneurs.” In fact, she encourages all teachers and students to become some sort of “preneur” or problem solver in an area that interest them. Alefiya explains her own motivation as an edupreneur who set out to create an app-development experience for students.

She shares, “With MAD-learn, we wanted to figure out a bridge where you take kids from consuming the technology to now being able to create it, to understand it, to see a little bit about how it’s made, how they can direct it themselves, how they can tell it what to do, and create it in a way that makes sense to them. And again, be more and more responsible users and creators of that technology moving forward.”

In this episode, we explore ways to get more students interested in problem-solving and computer science through app development. Through these experiences, students can develop the skills they will need to become whatever type of “preneur” they want to be. Here are a few highlights from this episode:

  • Creativity and Failure: Students often expect that there is one correct answer in school. We need to expand student mindsets and introduce them to open-ended, creative opportunities, so they can think more broadly and learn to overcome failure. Alefiya states, “Failure and being comfortable with failure is everything, and I think that that is a true skill we need to teach our kids in school.”
  • Students as Builders: Students are comfortable being consumers. It’s easy and passive. We need to flip this and allow them to also be creators. This is one of the missions of MAD-learn. Alefiya believes, “We need to teach the kids how to build apps and empower them with that ability.”
  • The Beginning of a Company: When Alefiya first established MAD-learn, she says, “People thought we were crazy when we said, ‘Hey, we should have kids in elementary school building apps.’” Since that time, many teachers and schools have joined her in this mindset, discovering that students of all ages can be app creators.
  • An Introduction to Computer Science: Because they have never been exposed to coding or computer science, many students don’t believe that it’s a place for them. However, with proper exposure, these students can become motivated to enter the field. Alefiya points out, “Our biggest goal, and mission, and purpose as a company, as a team, is to get experiences like app development to kids who have never had that before, but more importantly, don’t see themselves as people doing that.”
  • Introduce It to Everyone: To expand interest and access to coding and computer science, initial exposure needs to happen in multiple core academic subject areas, not just math and computer science. This ensures that all students are exposed to the field, not just a select group who has opted in to the program. Alefiya is seeing a growth of interest happening in schools using MAD-learn. She says, “We have a lot of kids that I would say maybe are nontraditional in a computer science classroom because we’re pushing into non-computer-science classrooms.”
  • The Power of Mobile: “We picked mobile and we picked apps because kids get it,” says Alefiya. “It’s a language that they get. They’re mobile natives first. We—all of us—are more natives or digital immigrants, but the kids are mobile.”
  • Meaningful Projects: Students have been able to use app development as a way to facilitate and demonstrate learning in a variety of content areas. For instance, a group of middle school girls created a powerful app about the Holocaust, where users of the app can understand the experience through two lenses: that of a 12-year-old girl and that of a 42-year-old man. The app is called 2 Voices. Another group of students created an app, BLM Info, about the Black Lives Matter movement, with options to “learn” and “act.” These student apps, as well as many others, are available in MAD-learn’s MAD-store.
  • Set the Hook: By introducing students to app creation and computer science in core classrooms, all students get to experience the excitement of creating something of their own, and they are introduced into computer science in a way that does not feel intimidating. Once students have a positive experience with computer science and app development, they are more apt to voluntarily sign up for dedicated computer science classrooms. Alefiya shares the experience of one school, saying, “Because of MAD-learn’s impact on nontraditional classes and nontraditional teachers, they saw a 27% increase in high school computer science enrollment.”
  • Coding Is Optional but Available: Products like MAD-learn allow students to enter into the act of app creation without needing to know actual coding. This opens up opportunities to learn more about coding languages. Alefiya talks about what she sees happening once students become interested in using the optional coding view of her program: “When you get interested, because you will, you flip the screen around and you see the screen behind that screen, and edit that—you manipulate it. You learn a little bit more about HTML, or CSS, or JavaScript, for example, and you can apply that as you’re building your app.”
  • Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone: “There is so much power and so much beauty that exists in stepping outside of your comfort zone,” says Alefiya. For teachers, this might be doing something once per week that’s just outside of their comfort zone. “Try something new,” she adds. “Do something that makes you a little nervous, that makes your heart beat just a little bit faster, and that’s when you know you’re pushing yourself, and that’s always, always a good thing.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What value do you see in giving students creative opportunities in the classroom?
  • What academic and life skills can students learn from engaging in app creation?
  • How might computer science or app creation be introduced into core subject areas in your school?
  • What is the value of integrating computer science experiences in core classes rather than dedicated computer science classes?
  • What computer science opportunities are available in your school or district, and how many students take advantage of those opportunities?
  • How might you grow interest in computer science and app development in your school or district?

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