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Chris Aitken - How it feels to deliver Apps for Good over seven years

Sep 29, 2020
Our Work
Chris Aitken
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A lot of my students have gone on to choose careers in digital simply because of where things started with Apps for Good.”

We chatted with computing teacher Chris Aitken about introducing Apps for Good to his students and being the first Apps for Good cohort outside of London. He’s delivered Apps for Good courses over 6 years and has just joined us again after a small hiatus. We talked about the joy of bringing his students down from Wick to London and the importance of the Apps for Good Awards, and how his students felt after completing the Apps for Good courses.

Why did you become an Apps for Good Educator?

It’s kind of a long story and I could talk for a long time about it! When I first started teaching there was a fundamental change in how the curriculum was delivered, and a lot of that revolved around giving young people personal choice, projects and all of these things. I saw an article on TES about Apps for Good, on how they were doing great things in the centre of London. I immediately emailed Apps for Good and said could we do this in Scotland

I thought it was such a lovely fit for how the course is structured and how it fit into our curriculum, we just had to make it happen. It put our students on a trajectory that inspired them to take Computer Science. It really was an incredible experience for our pupils for six or seven years, an experience that is going to last a lifetime for them and will stand them in good stead with confidence and connections to people in industry and job opportunities from the back of it. All of this came from one email.

Even for those that weren’t engaged in education there was something special in the Apps for Good course.

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Did you face any challenges when you were teaching the courses?

The hardest part for us was coming up with genuine problems that could be solved with an App. We spent a long, long time working with students coming up with ideas, refining ideas, then scrapping them when they didn’t work. At the heart of it we had to have something that really resonated with them . If it didn’t resonate it wouldn’t stick and wouldn’t go very far. We came up with things like Cattle Manager for the farmers as that was all they ever cared about- farming. And even the midge tracker, was something that really bothered a lot of the kids that were outdoors a lot of the time. That was the hardest part.

My job was just to point them in the right direction and make sure they had access to resources and tutorials and chipping in where needed, like coding. Getting the course up and running was incredibly painless and the drive that we saw from the students that really took ownership for the development process was really second to none. We couldn’t ask for any more than that in terms of education and inspiring pupils to learn.

How useful did you find the tools and support offered by Apps for Good?

The whole platform was fantastic. You took on my comments about how it could be improved and that improvement process never stopped for Apps for Good. The lessons were very well structured. It was very easy for us to look at the course structure and the end point in terms of the competition. The units were very well spaced out. I could pick it up and get cracking with it.

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What impact did Apps for Good have on your students?

The opportunities that some of my students have had because of Apps for Good has really set us apart. It’s been absolutely incredible to think that a school in rural Scotland has managed to send kids down to London to internships at Thomson Reuters; for the Apps for Good Awards - some had never left the county before.

It’s incredible to think of the opportunities that were given to us based on our Apps for Good experience and it’s something that I’ll always be grateful for. A lot of my students have gone on to choose careers in digital simply because of where things started with Apps for Good.

For the finals it’s such a great affirming experience. To be sat in a room with industry experts and be told ‘your idea is really good, to a fifteen year old it’s just incredible. I don’t think it really sinks in for them. They’ve got the head of Spotify telling them that their App idea is really cool. When they look back on it, and the head of an organisation is saying that it’s industry level work - it’s life affirming. I do feel that that is an experience where their life could take a completely different direction based on one chat. I just wish that every kid could have that experience.

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Even for those that weren’t engaged in education there was something special in the Apps for Good course.”

The Expert platform is amazing, getting industry people into schools has that magic touch that a teacher will never hit. We were very lucky in that we had Bob Schukai in Wick for five years. With his jeans and his long hair like a complete rockstar saying to every single pupil your idea is great and it’s great because of this, this and this gives every pupil, regardless if they make it to the final, that magic touch. And that’s something we would never have ever had without Apps for Good.

Would you recommend Apps for Good to other teachers?

I would recommend that anyone takes it on because the opportunities that are afforded simply by being part of the programme are more important than any educational award that you can get. These trips are real life changing trips for a lot of kids and especially those from rural communities and if we’re not doing them we’re doing the students a disservice.

What impact did taking part in Apps for Good have on your school as a whole?

The benefit was reputational. Not just in Scotland but national awards and in a rural area it was big big news. If you ask a lot of high schools about Wick high school, they’ll say “oh they’re that high school that did Apps for Good for all of those years”. A school that embraces everything that’s great about digital technology in schools. A lot of schools now know about us, and our reputation has grown nationally, because of what we achieved with Apps for Good. Even on a smaller scale, the course has got so many opportunities for cross curricular work, whether it’s the design or the coding element where we can work with other departments.

We are celebrating a decade of Apps for Good, if you enjoyed this we have lots more for you to explore on our 10 years page, and here on our blog.