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DML 2012: We came, We saw, We Presented! …and had a great deal of fun!

Youth APPLab is an awesome project!  The students, the apps they create, reactions from supporters, and its future potential never cease to amaze me.  This was also case at this year’s Digital Media & Learning (DML Conference) in San Francisco, CA earlier this month.

This year, we wanted to take as many students as possible.  But the trip to San Fran proved to be expensive.  This led us to pursue various fundraising ideas.  Our most successful campaign was on IndieGogo, where we raised $1,500 and a great deal of support.  The video included in that campaign tells the story of our trip to last year’s DML Conference.  A huge thanks to all those who donated!

As a result of careful budgeting, I was accompanied by 3 Youth APPLab students (Shakira – who won a 2012 NCWIT Runner-Up Aspirations in Computing Award, Hamza, and Muhammad), 1 parent (Ms. Graves – Shakira’s mom), our Research Associate (Jennifer), and the Youth APPLab co-instructor (Marco).

Although there were 4 adults on the trip, the focus was entirely on the 3 students. Accepted to participate in delivering content for two workshops, Shakira, Hamza, and Muhammad did all the talking.

First, they shared their Youth APPLab experience to-date and specifically talked about making our ‘Go Green DC: Community Garden Edition’ app (to appear on Google Play by this coming summer). This app helps DC residents learn about and locate community gardens within each quadrant of the city.  This workshop/panel was in conjunction with with Lissa Soep, Asha Richardson and Asiya Wadud of Youth Radio Mobile Action Lab about their app called Forage City, which is an adaptation of Asiya’s Forage Oakland, which helps folks in an Oakland neighborhood share excess fruit harvested from their backyards.  Check out the Ed Week’s blog entry about this panel.

Next, with David Wolber, Shakira, Hamza, and Muhammad helped conference workshop attendees learn App Inventor.  Guided by David, many participants easily built their first app with App Inventor.

We had great conversations with DML 4 competition winners as well as with a host of representatives from programs all over the country who were interested supporters of our work.  Student reception was so great, that someone even tweeted a suggestion that Youth APPLab students make next year’s conference app – a suggestion we accept, if this ends up true consideration!

But all work and no play makes for a bad trip to San Francisco, so we all ventured out to various tourists attractions as well, like Alcatraz, Youth Radio, and the Exploratorium!  A huge thanks to the Exploratorium Employee who gave us VIP invitations!

This blog entry features sub-entries about our trip from Jennifer, Hamza, and Muhammad below!  These beginning words are simply for introductions!

It was a great trip!  But don’t take my word for it, read blog entries from Jennifer, Hamza, and Muhammad below:

Jennifer Burrell, Research Associate – Uplift, Inc.
My first visit to the city of San Francisco was assorted, ranging from viewing presentations at the DML Conference, to exploring the pier, to touring the prison Alcatraz, to visiting Youth Radio, to investigating “science” at the Exploratorium! As a new member of the Youth APPLab (Uplift) team, I was there to observe, learn, and explore.


The most profound scholarly moment for me occurred when I attended the workshop, “What students learn: Connecting classroom games and measures of student learning” by Institute of Play and Quest to Learn (Manhattan, NY).   As frequently endorsed in discussions with team-members at my own institution of learning (Howard University), the presenters promote goal-based learning, complex problem-solving, integrated need to solve, and assessment in the classroom environment.  They shared their experiences and success in using hands-on and narrative learning, which, from my own classroom observations, just feels and looks “right.” However, at question and answer time, the realities of real-world obstacles in implementing similar learning strategies in public schools surfaced—that is, the obstacle of assessment! The question is: how can a public school cultivate the type of learning possible at Institute of Play, while meeting core standards and testing requirements?

For advocates of positive change in public schools—and the mass of children we cannot leave behind—the question of standards and testing, has become somewhat of a bottom line and fundamental question.  Sitting in the audience I was left to figure out this paradox.  There is no doubt that, as my advisor, Dr. A. Wade Boykin would say, it is time that we shift from supposed assessments “of” learning to assessments “for” learning.  While myself and other audience members are certainly on board and agree that, certainly, there must be greater overlap between the core curriculum, what is actually taught, what is learned, and what is assessed – there is much work ahead in figuring out “how.”

Happiest Moment
One of my happiest moments while attending the DML Conference was a simple fleeting moment watching business cards exchange hands between one Youth APPLab student and a conference participant during the APP Inventor workshop. Beyond the surface, this gesture represented the accomplishing of one major goal of Youth APPLab student attendance at DML–that is the building of professional relationships and collaborations.  Further, watching Youth APPLab students share their travels thus far on their pathways towards becoming successful entrepreneurs, computer scientists, and engineers was truly special, particularly because they represent a story that often goes untold.  I was proud to witness Youth APPLab students shatter the figurative boxes that individuals in society oftentimes try to fit them into based on age and/or phenotypic characteristics.  These young people not only attended, but also presented their work as a part of Uplift, Inc. and they were well received. The experience leaves me confident that, in the future, there will be even more representation of young budding scientists, African-American scientists, and other groups that are underrepresented in STEM at (and helping to facilitate) the DML Conference.

Hamza Hawkins, Youth APPLab Student – Uplift, Inc.

My trip to the DML conference this year was awesome. The highlight of last year’s trip was building a digital business card app along with Kweku in under 30 minutes. This year, several other students and I spoke on a panel along with others, we assisted with a hands on workshop, and we explored the busy area of San Francisco.

Youth AppLab had a big presence at the conference through the first day. Shakira, Muhammad and I were included on a panel with others about helping communities with technology. After our presentation, the whole panel, along with Ms.Leshell, participated in a Q&A session. During the session, a participant suggested that we make an app for the DML conference. We left and prepared for the second workshop after we answered some questions. During the second workshop, we assisted with the hands on project for app inventor. At the end of the workshop, we socialized with the participants and gained a few contacts.

After a busy first day, we had the rest of the of the week to explore. Shakira, Muhammad, and I walked around the various stores that were there. Fortunately, our hotel was literally around the corner from every store. On Friday, we visited Alcatraz. To get to the island, we had to catch a ferry. This was the first time I’ve ever been in a boat. Throughout the trip, I’ve learned interesting things. Later on that day, we visited the Youth Radio headquarters, which, as the name suggests, is a radio show hosted by youth in Oakland. We were given a tour of the building and took a quick peek Into their kitchen, which is where some of the youth cooked meals for everybody in the building. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long enough to watch the actual show that was planned for that night. On Saturday, we visited the Exploratorium which is a museum based on science and technology. At first I thought it was like a traditional museum where you would look at pictures and objects, and learn some history. Well I was wrong. You still learned history, but the pictures and objects were engaging and entertaining experiences.

Throughout my whole experience with Youth AppLab, I gained a sense of how important science, technology, engineering, and math is in our lives. This experience really motivates me to pursue the field of software engineering whether it be in a company such as Google and Microsoft, or an entrepreneurial option through the business my brother and I created, Snikwah Interactive.

Muhammad Hawkins, Youth APPLab Student – Uplift, Inc.

My trip to the 2012 DML Conference was an awesome and unforgettable experience. After the 12 hour flight to San-Francisco we were all tired and hungry, so the whole Youth APPLab group we were traveling with ate dinner, and went to our hotel room to go over the presentation we were to present the next day.

The conference we attended was huge and a lot of important people were there, such as one lady who was on the team that created App Inventor. I was on a panel along with two other Youth APPLab students, Hamza and Shakira, and we presented with others about helping communities with technology. The presentation went great, and then the audience began to ask questions. It was during the Q&A when someone suggested that we create an app for the DML conference. The second workshop we attended, our instructor Ms. Leshell was giving a presentation about App Inventor along with someone else who teaches App Inventor in the Bay-Area. During that workshop we had to walk around and help people create a simple app with App Inventor.

After the workshops we were supposed to attend, we were free the rest of the week. We visited a lot of different stores around the area our hotel was in. On Friday we visited Alcatraz, which is a federal prison that they shut down due to high maintenance costs. To get to Alcatraz we had to take a ferry because it was on a an island. It was an interesting experience. Later that day we went to Youth Radio, which is a radio station for youth in the Oakland area. We took a tour around the building, and it is definitely a nice place. On Saturday we visited a place called Exploratorium, which is a science and technology museum. At this museum they had some of the coolest exhibits that I’ve ever seen in any museum I’ve visited.

Being apart of Youth APPLab is what gave me an opportunity to go to the DML conference, and has given me the skills and knowledge to create Android apps. It’s because of Youth APPLab that I want to become a software developer, and why my brother and I came up with an Android App development company of our own.

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First Full Year of Youth APPLab Now Complete! The result? A HUGE SUCCESS!!!

Youth APPLab!

This past Friday was the last day of Youth APPLab internships, and the last day of the first full year of Youth APPLab.  The day was filled with XBox 360 (what better way to celebrate), bragging about completed apps, and anticipation for what is to come in year two!

As I look back on this first year, I realize how far we’ve come and how proud I am of our students.

When we began, 75% of our students didn’t know what progamming meant and never heard of ‘coding.’  But today, about 10 months later, we have a list of 20+ apps waiting to be published on the Android Market (4 are already published)!

Apps already published and accessible using the link above are:

1. The App Inventor Tutorial app by Nate Evans, Jr., a rising 11th grader,
2. Third Grade Math app by Ali Hawkins, a rising 3rd grader,
3. The Brain Warm Up app by Faith Slaughter, a rising 8th grader, and
4. The Color Tap Game by Hamza Hawkins, a rising 12th grader.

Students have explored and learned ALICE, Scratch, GIMP, and App Inventor – and some have even begun to learn the Java programming language.  We’ve gone over presentation skills, the software development life cycle, game design, and pseudo-code – an idea each student initially didn’t see the need for but soon realized its importance.

We’ve been featured in Black Enterprise Magazine, on Black Enterprise TV, the Michael Eric Dyson Radio Show (marker 22:30), and have evenhung out with the Chair of the FCC, Julius Genachowski – at his request.  Two students, Kweku Sumbry and Hamza Hawkins, attended the 2nd Annual DML (Digital Media & Learning Conference) with me and successfully completed an app challenge to create an app (the Digital Business card) before the conference ended – which they finished in 30 min.  We returned from the conference and immediately participated in an elementary school STEM Expo the following day.

Two of our students even started their own app development company –SNIKWAH Interactive!

Did I mention how proud I am?  I’m sure you can see why.

After months of excitement, frustration, confusion, and more excitement, students designed, programmed, tested, debugged, and showcased their apps on Demo Day – June 25, 2011 to a room of family, friends, and supporters.  It was awesome!

Internships followed as we improved some apps and created 3 more for the DC community.  These apps will be published on the market soon.  Students had a great time visiting various places and making app presentations throughout the summer!

So, what’s next for Youth APPLab? Well, students and parents are demanding another year.  We hope to start classes again this fall and are looking for more funders, supporters, and friends.

In the meantime, please stay tuned by following us on twitter andFacebook!

Special thanks go out to our awesome students, their parents, Howard University Middle School of Math and Science, Howard University Computer Science Department, our 2 Howard student volunteers (Matthew and Imani, the photographer) and Marco Jacobs – my right hand man, for making this year run as smoothly as it did.

A huge congratulations go out to the four rising college freshman – all African-American males (Ke’von, Emmanual, Anthony, and Roi) who have decided to either minor or major in Computer Science after participating in Youth APPLab.  And a special acknowledgement to all the other boys and girls who are now also interested but just have a few more years of high school left.

I look forward to meeting new students this upcoming year and can’t wait to partner with the new Center for Mobile Learning at MIT (the new host of App Inventor in 2012).

A huge THANK YOU to the MacArthur Foundation, HASTAC, and everyone else involved in making this (idea) program what it has become today!

I can’t wait to see what happens next!  …and for some reason, I don’t think I’m the only one.

Thanks for reading!

Filled with excitement,


Youth APPLab is proudly powered by Uplift, Inc.


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6 Months Down – 6 More to Go!

I must begin this blog entry by saying that Youth APPLab is so much more than I initially thought it would be.  We have been in class for 6 months now and I can tell the students have learned a great deal – and so have I.  I am truly proud of how far we’ve come and am exciting about the next 6 months.  Our story will certainly be an interesting one when it’s all said and done.   Done?  Did I say that?  This story won’t be done for quite some time, as we are currently planning for year two.

Black Enterprise TV – Slice of Life Recording

But for now, I am extremely please and honored that Black Enterprise TV  (BE TV) has expressed an interest in sharing all that we have accomplished so far.  As a follow-up to my being in the Feb. 2011 issue of Black Enterprise Magazine (p. 46), Ken Meeks, the Producer of BE TV was intrigued enough to want to know more.  He called a few weeks ago asking if he could come to DC and profile me for the ‘Slice of Life‘ show, a show about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  I welcomed it, of course!  🙂

Interviews All Around!

So, after days of planning and logistics, Ken Meeks and his crew finally arrived yesterday.  He wanted to tell my story as best he could with perspectives from students and parents impacted by the classes I teach, an explanation of why I do what I do, and my vision for it all.  It was an amazing opportunity and after 2+ hours or interviews (me, Mr. Marco – my co-instructor, parents, CS Faculty, Uplift’s Board Chair – Crystal Swann, and students), my story has been officially recorded on film for public consumption for the first time ever.  It was an awesome experience!

First, the shot creation.  Ken and crew began the day searching for the right place to record.  They found the hallway and placed robots on a table behind me (to represent my robotics courses).  Once found, the construction of the essence of the shot began.  Lights, shadows, angles, etc. were all arranged and modified for the best impact.  I must have sat in my seat as a prop in the shot for 30 min.  I was extremely interested in every step as I watched it unfold and was glad Imani (our photographer and videographer) was on hand to catch the behind-the-scene shots (coming soon).

Then the interview began.  Ken and I began to talk about how I got to be in that seat and I must admit, after about 10 min, I forgot all about the lights and the camera and although a bit nervous, began telling my story.  Some of you may know it.  But, believe it or not, I began with explaining that I knew I’d be working with/teaching youth in after-school programs since I was 12.  I didn’t really realize that it would be with technology until much later in life, however.  As I began to disclose how I had worked with computers in corporate America (Bell communications Research – Bellcore) every summer since the age of 16 and then again through college, I could see Ken become more and more intrigued.  He made it very easy to just spill my gutts!  🙂

The Back Story

Needless to say, I went on to share my experience (2+ years) as an IT consultant on Wall St. (just before 911), my time as a computer teacher at the 1st charter school in Newark, NJ (North Star Academy Charter School), where interestingly enough, I was Imani’s teacher when she was in the 5th grade, as well as my time working with and starting my own nonprofit organization.

Basically, I am personally interested in all the things I teach – so why not teach them as I learn them.  🙂  He asked several other interesting questions, but I’ll save their disclosure for the actual episode, which will air some time in May 2011.

Mr. Marco was also interviewed, along with a faculty member from the CS Dept, several parents, students, and Crystal, our Board Chair.

Then, we had our normal class (but not in our normal classroom).  Students were ready – to shine and to help me shine – and that they did.  Wait until you see the episode!


We ended the day with demos by Hamza, Muhammad, and Yusra of an app they created to control a Lego Mindstorm Robot, a challenge I put forth to students weeks before, as we (Uplift) are preparing to combine app development and robotics.  *I’ve been teaching robotics for two years now; it just makes sense!  The demo was great.  It was outside and attracted alot of attention from others at Howard.  I hope Hamza, Muhammad, and Yusra weren’t too nervous.  🙂

I remember at one point looking over and seeing the robot’s tracks popping off.  Too funny.  But, the beauty of editing is that that will not be seen, hopefully!  lol

Needless to say, it was an awesome day.  The students were awesome and really shown how brilliant and special they are.  They talked about several app ideas/projects in progress as we discussed some of the work and research happening in class.

Our Parents

Our parents were amazing as well. At least 7 were present and 5 were fathers! Just awesome! They even stayed long after the crew left to share with me directly how appreciative they are of the program. Some are now even interested in learning how to make apps themselves. Did I mention I will soon offer an adults class? 🙂

A Huge Thanks to Dr. Burge & Dr. Washington

The day was filled with excitement and new opportunities. I must give a huge shout-out and thank you to Dr. Burge and Dr. Washington of Howard University’s CS department. Not only have they hosted use for the past 6 months, but they helped make this event happen within days. They are truly awesome to work with…and I’m sure they are proud to work with a two-time Alumna of the department (yup, I have my BS and Masters in Computer Systems Engineering and Computer Science from Howard). That makes doing this work at Howard all the more special! 🙂

I will keep you posted of when the episode will air.

I can’t wait to see it myself!


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It’s getting really busy at Youth APPLab…

So much is happening as we approach the last few months of Youth APPLab.

Coming Events (Black Enterprise TV & FCC Chairman Visits Youth APPLab)

We will be profiled by Black Enterprise TV and we will have a visit from the Chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, all next week.  The Black Enterprise TV profile comes as an extension to the article in the February 2011 issue (p. 45-46).  We are so very excited and students are gearing up to show what they’ve learned so far.  The FCC will visit in relation to an upcoming special announcement coming in the next few weeks and would love to hear more about Youth APPLab and what students are learning.

NOTE: Parent tips from the BE article have been extended here.

Coming soon – Student Apps!

All this while we are all trying to get our apps finished.  Two are almost done and more are coming.  Students are busy working on tutorials and app designs.  They have so many, I am not sure which apps will be completed first.  Nonetheless, it’s extremely exciting!

A Bit of Competition

Students are now divided into four teams and are working to accumulate the highest score to win prizes (perhaps an android tablet, but we welcome your suggestions) at the end of the program.  They get points for blogging, answering questions, and completing assignments – and of course, for completing quality apps.

More Workshops

After the coming excitement wanes, we will have a series of college prep, financial management, and patent and trademark workshops – all to get them prepared for a future in app development.  I’m sure this is all a huge amount of activity coming at them, but in the end, I hope it makes for a great experience.

No More Connection Challenges

I’m happy to say that our internet challenges have come to an end – knock on wood – and Tuesday’s class was filled with engaged students trying to get to the next level.

The Youngest (known) Programmer in DC!

Tuesday’s class was awesome for several reasons.  However, one huge highlight was Ali, our youngest programmer (was 7 when he started and is now 8)!  He started coming to class with his older brothers (Hamza and Muhammad) about a month ago.  I wanted to engage him during his first day, so I have him a laptop and told him to keep up, if he could.  Emmanual, a senior in the class, took Ali under his wing that day and before we knew it, Ali had a few Scratch animations going.  Needless to say, Ali kept coming and continued to attempt in-class and homework assignments.  One day I asked Ali if he wanted to make apps and he responded with a very simple and assertive answer – “All I need is a phone.”

Ali’s Biggest Challenge Yet

From that moment on, I realized that Ali was a mainstay in the class.  It’s been a little over a month and Ali has been blogging, has already given a Scratch presentation in front of the class, gone through several App Inventor tutorials, and has recently accomplished his biggest challenge yet.  Last week (Thursday), I told Ali that if he managed to complete an app from one of the tutorials and have it run on one of his brother’s phones, that he could get his own phone (given his parents’ approval).  Well, Tuesday, Ali came up to me with a huge smile on his face and his brother’s phone in hand – ready to demo his first app.  It was great.  Ali had accomplished his challenge and after Mr. Marco and I put his app through rigorous testing, Ali was given his phone to the sound of applause from everyone in class.  It was awesome.

First and Longest (Known) After-School Computer Science Program in DC

But I would be remiss if I didn’t celebrate all students (20 in middle and high school) who have been consistently attending Youth APPLab classes since October 2010.  So far, we’ve journeyed down almost every avenue of technology (not just app development).  All involved should be hugely celebrated for their interests, efforts, persistence, and hard work over the past 5 months – the first and longest concentrated computer science/software development after-school effort in DC (and perhaps the nation) for African-American students.  I am truly proud of all of them!

So, yes, keep your eye out for some amazing apps within the next few months.

It’s getting really busy at Youth APPLab!

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Ledos, Linux, and App Inventor


So, tonight we finally tasted the infamous ledos pizza – something several students promoted.  Most students seemed to enjoy it. However, to me, it was no better than Dominos or Pizza Hut.  We’ll see how long this lasts.  🙂  Did I mention that I’m ready to try something else?  *If anyone has any suggestions on food delivery to Howard University, please let us know!  🙂


My brilliant idea to expose students to linux is not working as planned.  Although everyone has the same machine, each is responding differently to our attempts to use App Inventor …and it is causing a bit of frustration on everyone’s part.  Nonetheless, I’m proud to say that we are all patient and are fighting through the difficulties.   Using Ubuntu Linux affords us the feasibility to use other opensource software (e.g. OpenOffice, GIMP, etc.).  However, App Inventor does not work well with OpenJDK – which is installed with OpenOffice.  This was the cause of most of our problems.  I believe we are down to 3 or 4 machines not responding as expected and I hope to resolve these issues some time this weekend.


Instead of wasting precious class time on troubleshooting, we ventured ahead and continued our exploration of App Inventor, with some students watching their neighbors (those who had App Inventor running).  Some students have challenged themselves to attempt to build simple apps this weekend.  Whether they are successful or not, we are certainly moving closer to everyone becoming more and more familiar with creating ‘logic’ and instructions to make their app perform as desired.

Next steps involve completing designs, requirements documents, and a bit of pseudo-code – something many students don’t see the point of or hadn’t seen the point in past exercises.  I’m hoping all blind eyes will open as we embark on these next steps and their apps unfold.

I’m anxious to see them all myself!

PS – Many students have also challenged themselves to begin to explore the Lego Mindstorm components in App Inventor and will be ready to test first drafts of apps next week.  I can’t wait….