TPS Hosts TechGirlz

By Matthew Murray, Tech Integrator

The Philadelphia School hosted its first (but no way its last) TechGirlz tech workshop, “Designing Mobile Apps”. Led by UX specialist Kristen Gallagher, 12 fifth, sixth, and seventh graders came together in the TPS Multipurpose Room to learn about the journey of a tech enthusiast + professional technophile in the field and take the first steps of their own tech-based journey.

Once the girls found their teams, they were first tasked with brainstorming an idea for an app where its function, features, app name, and logo were bandied about in an energetic exchange of ideas. After the teammates engaged in the passionate (and wonderfully loud) discussion, they tapped one representative to share out the basis of their conversation with the crowd. Some of the initial app ideas included an app whose sole purpose was to be an endless scroll, a simulated animal transformation game, a version of Shazam where a simple humming of a song could link you to a streaming version of the track, and another music app that automatically downloads the songs most commonly played on your streaming services.

The teams regrouped after the share-out and began to get their ideas down on paper. As each group met, Danica, Amy, and Marylou, three members from the TechGirlz Team, along with Kristen, circulated the room to assess the quickly forming ideas, ask penetrating questions, and challenge certain notions (some silly, some just in need of more fleshing out). The eager amateur designers began illustrating a user flow and imagined the hypothetical user experience (UX). Although some of the girls claimed “not to be artists,” the logo of Hum (the song-finding app), for example, included an ingenious illustration of multiple “m’s” combined to look identical to sound wave imaging.

After a hilarious brain break led by Danica, Kristen then directed the girls to find their wire frames (of mobile phones) and begin designing the varied screens and pages in a prototype version of the app. With the help of an iOS app called Marvel (not to be confused with Marvel Comics), the girls used the cameras on their iPads to take photos of the filled-in wire frames. The app, an amazing find by TechGirlz, took the girls’ sketches and linked their frames through use of strung-together “hotspots” added to the frames, where drawings of “buttons” became actual highlighted/linkable buttons, when clicked or swiped on the prototype’s presentation. Kristen even mentioned a way to share the project through a service called Axure if the students want to take the next step beyond the prototyping completed in Marvel.

Despite some pre-game jitters, all four teams presented their ideas using a document camera and iPads. The level of pride in their design thinking and app design was evident. After showcasing the ins and outs of their prototyped apps, the girls debriefed with Kristen and received immediate feedback from their peers and teachers.

The hope is that every girl will continue to create, communicate, and collaborate beyond the one-day event and come up with even more ways to solve real-world problems. The initial signs of this happening were good as two seventh graders downloaded Marvel on their iPhones before heading home and an excited parent sent a message late in the evening, stating that her daughter had just finished designing another app.

As Kristen mentioned at the top of the workshop, “Technology is powerful because anyone can build a solution to a problem that immediately helps everyone.”