Android App Course: The continuing saga

I have been digging and looking at suggestions.  Thunkable was pointed out to me. I tinkered for a while then handed it off to my uber-geek sophomore for evaluation.  I liked it better than App Inventor. It does have the handicap of needing an Android phone plugged into it (the emulator works but has issues) and it does not seem to work with tablets (I only have one to test with so do not take that as gospel but Doug Bergman could not get it to work with tablets either) but it does connect every time to the phone.  My test student had the most interesting comment. He said it did not have enough programming blocks so it was limited in what it could do. It also glitched out on him a couple of times. My final and admittedly limited evaluation is that it is better than App Inventor in some aspects, but just barely.

The next thing I stumbled on (I should not be stumbling on these things, they should be known to the CS education world as common language) was Microsoft Xamarin.  I had seem the word before but it was not impressed on me that it was an app builder. (I need to pay more attention to what I read.) I am in the middle of the Microsoft “Hello, Android: Quickstart” tutorial.  I have observed/learned two things so far.  First Xamarin does not seem that much different from Android Studio from the beginners point of view and second I really hate tutorials that do not match what happens on the screen as you do the steps.  I am only a short ways into the tutorial so I am evaluating the tutorial more than the Xamarin at this point but it took me 30 minutes to figure out why my UI does not want to look like the tutorial’s UI.  The only reason I figured it out was because I had worked through an Android Studio tutorial and I guessed the drag and drop process of building a UI was the same. Little things like this can really put a crimp on a teacher wanting to use a piece of software for a class.  The Microsoft Computer Science Teachers Network on Yammer  has a Xamarin group but it seems pretty dead.  I have not been able to locate anything in the way of tutorials or texts that would be useful at the beginner or high school level.  Microsoft really needs to bring back a K-12 software support and development team.

After looking at both Android Studio and Xamarin I think with work and careful writing they are usable at the high school level.  It would definitely not be an intro to programming course like App Inventor is intended for as in the APCSP curriculum but for a select course they are a possibility.  The problem is the “work and careful writing” would be a lot of work and a lot of writing and testing. Not something most teachers have time for. One of the respondents to my initial Android App Course post, Brian Meerman, is using it at the high school level with success.  It sound like the students are well prepared before taking the course.  Xamarin requires more digging.

I will continue to look for the perfect middle ground for app writing. I am still looking at Corona SDK as the best in-between programming environment but the fact it is primarily for games sticks a pretty big limitation on it if trying to build a project based course.

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