DIY Toolkit: How To Come Up With Your Own Mobile App

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This lesson plan is part of a larger effort by Youth Radio’s Innovation Lab for young people, working in partnership with veteran educators, to develop materials that will enable teachers and learners everywhere to engage youth in media and tech creation.





Intro – Mobile App Ideation

WHY APPS? Well, to start with, they’re everywhere. According to the Pew Research Center, 78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half (47%) of those own smartphones. And, perhaps more importantly, apps are also really cool! No matter what you’re interested in, there can (and probably is) an app for that. But teens don’t have to be limited to the role of consumer in today’s digital marketplace. All you need is a little know-how and an idea — which is the focus of today’s DIY curriculum.

But coming up with an idea can be harder than it sounds. With all the excitement these days about “teaching kids to code,” it seems an important moment to pause and consider why that’s the right thing to do, and how to achieve the greatest impact. Does your idea make sense as a mobile app? Do you want your app to serve a purpose in the community? What about collaborating with professional colleagues and building something that matters?


Activity: Mobile Design 101 — App Ideation with Public Art

How can a mobile app better showcase public art? You decide!
How can mobile apps better showcase public art?

This activity, developed by Youth Radio’s Asha Richardson,  walks students through the basics of app ideation through the example of a public art mobile app.

Starting with the basic types of apps and how they utilize the functions of a smart phone, students will work in groups to address community needs and opportunities through mobile technology. Note that this lesson does not involve coding, and no prior knowledge about development is needed.

All you need is the activity worksheet, some pens, markers, and creativity!

Download the PDF for Mobile Design 101 here.

Also available as a keynote presentation.



Here is an excerpt from a post describing the first time the Innovation Lab completed this activity:

The Mobile Design 101 activity gets young people thinking about what their phones can do, what they wish their phones could do, and how these functionalities can address concerns or opportunities in different communities. We started by asking:  What can your phone do? Then we presented questions based on a specific topic area–sometimes called a problem statement. For this activity we focused on public art, so we asked three questions:

    • How do we make public art more discoverable?
    • How do we make public art more tied to the community?
    • How do we support public art?

The team broke into smaller groups and conducted some user research by interviewing people around Youth Radio. Then they had to integrate their understanding of the phone’s functionality, insights from their user research, and their own creativity to quickly come up with a solution for their question. By quickly I mean less than 20 minutes. And our team did it!

If they chose “How do we make public art more discoverable?” they would say “This is my app [App Name] and it makes public art more discoverable by”… and explain their app here.

Watch the video below to see one of our youth teams present their app idea,  developed on the basis of this curriculum.

Check out this blog post to see more videos of students presenting their app ideas


VIDEO: PROFESSIONAL Q&A — A Dialogue on the Future of Tech Education

As exciting as it is that app-building is becoming more accessible, sending the message that a kid can bang out an app in a two-hour workshop and leverage that experience to unlock access to learning and career is a little dangerous. As engaging and rewarding as a short-term/one-time experience can be, too often it stops there. What about sustained involvement? What about opportunities to develop real expertise? What about persisting and iterating again and again and again until you get it right?

We posed these questions as part of a cross-generational conversation between our partner and MIT Professor Hal Abelson, who is also founding director of Creative Commons, and Youth Radio Innovation Lab co-founder, Asha Richardson. Hal and Asha sat down inside our Oakland studio to talk about what’s possible today that you couldn’t do even five years ago, what it means to approach app development as just another form of media creation, and what it takes to teach kids to develop projects that are worth making.




  • Technovation: This technology entrepreneurship program and competition for young women has a curriculum for their  App Inventor/Technology Entrepreneurship program for mentors and a student workbook.
  • D-School: Terrific resources on digital design can be found here, from Institute of Design at Stanford.
  • Apps For Good: An approach developed for UK schools outlined here.



This Lesson Plan is part of a larger effort by Youth Radio’s Innovation Lab for young people, working in partnership with veteran educators, to develop materials that will enable teachers and learners everywhere to engage youth in media and tech creation. Launched in 2013, the Innovation Lab leverages Youth Radio’s top-flight journalism and our track record as one of the first programs worldwide that teaches teens to design dynamic new storytelling tools and platforms by integrating journalism and programming. For more information about Youth Radio’s Innovation Lab, check out


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