Beginning with App Inventor

In the process of writing the curriculum for the CSCI 100 course I have to learn a few odds and ends.  One new to me odd thing is App Inventor.  I had looked at App Inventor previously but not to the point where I could teach it.  I worked through the App Inventor site tutorials (Beginner, PaintPot and Mole Mash).  Pretty easy.  I figured I better find something a bit more challenging.  Nothing super fancy but enough to explain a bit more about the IDE and programming techniques.  Google to the rescue.  I found one PDF tutorial that had excellent graphics and readable text.  After spending 10 minutes of confusion I discovered that there is a big difference from App Inventor v1 and v2.  Using a v1 tutorial when coding with v2 is not a good thing.  After a few minutes of digging through YouTube I found David Wolber’s eight part series “Code “Pong” with App Inventor II”.  The tutorials are straightforward and I would categorize them as excellent.  I have learned one really important thing from working in App Inventor.  This will not be a revelation to those that work in drag and drop regularly.  That important thing is have a really big monitor.  DnD blocks take up room.  Yes, they do collapse but then they have to be expanded to see what is in there when you forget 5 minutes later.  Doing App Inventor on a 13-inch laptop would require young eyes.  I have a 29-inch monitor.  I am good.

DnD is a bit of a shift.  I think it is slower than text programming.  You have a lot of mouse work which is slower than typing (even my typing).  Also the overall setup is just so different.  Creating variables, building If statements and the general flow of the code is very different.  Not bad, it just takes a shift in the way to read code.

Would I want to produce a professional level app in App Inventor?  Nope but then that is not its intent.  Is it a good way to learn and have some fun writing simple apps?  For sure.

I now need to write something semi-original (no YouTube) to truly test how hard it is to chase down coding issues.

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One Response to “Beginning with App Inventor”

  1. codeinfig Says:

    App Inventor is the one example I think of when the question is: “can drag-and-drop coding do anything practical and useful?” (or is it *just* an educational tool?)

    I used to frequent a store where a high-school-aged clerk told me that she codes with App Inventor and Python (not necessarily at the same time.) Its obviously working.

    My one gripe with it is similar to a gripe I have with so many modern languages– SO MANY PARAMETERS! When I was learning to code, a lot of parameters were optional– even without named parameters like Python optionally has. If there are good defaults this can still work in drag-and-drop coding, but it sure makes the layout big and noisy– which is intimidating (and distracting) for beginners. I wouldnt design an educational language or anything like App Inventor with more than 5 parameters in most instances, preferably fewer. But this is obviously a personal thing– or, something that more designers need to at least consider.

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