Phones In Control? Here’s How Young People Can Take Charge

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Let’s be honest: a lot of us spend all day on our phones, hooked on our favorite apps. We keep typing and swiping, even when we know the risks phones can pose to our attention, privacy, and even our safety.  And those risks can be even bigger for teens. But the computers in our pockets also create untapped opportunities for young people to learn, connect and transform their communities by making their own mobile apps and learning what goes into blockbuster platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and more.

Youth Radio Interactive — the tech education and coding arm of Youth Radio — is where young people are jumping on those opportunities. Our Interactive program combines computer programming and journalism to develop new tools, and tell dynamic stories about issues facing their communities. And our Interactive crew is especially proud to work side by side with our partners at MIT App Inventor to flip the script on how the public understands young people and their phones. Youth Radio Interactive teens are reporting for national outlets on how young people use their phones in surprising and powerful ways. Meanwhile, the team at MIT are continually enhancing their tool, App Inventor, to make it possible even for novice computer programmers to create apps like the ones featured in Youth Radio’s reporting.

And today, we’re going open source: we’re announcing a series of App Building Guides, co-created by Youth Radio Interactive and MIT App Inventor, that enable millions of young app makers to create their own apps they can publish in the Google Play Store.

Our first App Building Guide is inspired by Youth Radio’s story about Snapchat. Teens understand Snapchat intuitively, while older people can — let’s be honest — be a little clueless about how it works. That’s why when Snap Inc. went public last spring, NPR turned to Youth Radio to help listeners bridge the generation gap and grasp the huge appeal of the app.

Now, our first App Builder Guide invites the over six million registered users of App Inventor to go under the hood and create their own customized “bootleg” versions of Snapchat with brand new functionality you won’t see in the public version.

Youth Radio’s collaboration with MIT is supported in part by the National Science Foundation, and these guides are our latest effort in seven years of teaching code. Youth Radio has long been at the forefront of the movement to get young people — particularly those less represented in the industry — on-ramped to careers in tech through training and workforce development. Youth Radio Interactive and our guides take this work to the next level by preparing young people in-house and worldwide to create apps and learn to code. Using App Inventor, the Youth Radio Interactive team has released several apps: Mood Ring, Run 4 Prez and Bucket Hustle. Now, we hope to get even more young people excited about mobile app design and development.

To see more apps created by Youth Radio Interactive, visit the Youth Radio Interactive portfolio.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers DRL-1513282 and DRL-1614239. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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