PLAISTOW — While many people use smartphones to play games, students at Timberlane Regional High School are not phoning it in when it comes to getting hands-on experience.

A newly created class is guiding 22 students through the process of creating an application for a smartphone with a programming class.

Getting the curriculum approved and worked out takes about a year, principal Don Woodworth said. 

But for students in the class Creating Mobile Applications, it has been worth the wait.

Connor Kennedy, a 14-year-old freshman, said he wanted to take the course to broaden his programming palette.

"I wanted to get a wider perspective of programming in general," he said.

Connor, already had an interest in programming, but he said this course offered a solid first step.

The students are learning a "drag and drop" form of software, where files or images are dragged from one location and dropped into the software to change the phone application, Woodworth said.

The software is called App Inventor, teacher Jo-Ann Albert said.

It is a blocks-based program, she said making it easier to navigating and execute commands.

Student creations are based on models of other phone applications, Woodworth said, and each student is given their own smartphone to test their creations.

Connor's application allows users to draw on a photo using lines or dots, in addition to changing the color.

With Connor at the mouse, changing the background picture, size, or other specifications its just a few clicks away.

"It's really fun," he said.

Making the class approachable and hands-on was one of the goals from the start.

"I wanted a class that would appeal to students," teacher Jo-Ann Albert said.

There are two classes for Creating Mobile Applications, each one lasting a semester, Albert said.

Students learn a core concept or two a day, Albert said, and discuss solving problems in the program and adding to their apps.

"I think they're engaged," Albert said.

Smartphones come with a variety of tools, she said, such text-to-speech technology and an accelerometer which tells the phone if it is being moved.

"They can easily use the tools on the phone," she said.

The time spent developing an idea, creating a product and solving problems along the way is becoming the new norm for classrooms, Woodworth said.

"In a very general sense, that's the 21st century learning goal," Woodworth said.

Sophomore Emily Farone, 15, is looking forward to adding sound to her mobile game.

Based on the popular show "Doctor Who," Emily created an app that makes users tap on a moving picture of characters from the show.  The higher the score, the faster the picture moves and the more difficult the game becomes.

"It's really easy once you understand what type of game you want to do," she said.

Emily said before this class, she was the last person who would have been interested in computers or computer science.

"This is totally new to me," she said.

The class was less intimidating than other computer classes, Emily said, and Creating Mobile Applications seemed like a fun way to get a requirement.

She did not take a required computer class last year, she said she though to herself "well, you know, it looks pretty cool," she said.

Emily is looking forward to adding sounds and music to her game in the coming classes, she said.

The quick learning time makes App Inventor a great first start, Emily said she may be interested in more computer science classes down the line.

"I find it really easy to use," she said.

The class was created by Albert with the help of the school's Science, Technology, Engineer and Math coordinator, Woodworth said.

The goal was to look at new ways students can become interested in the field later in life.

"They actually get to create something they use," he said.

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