Review of Tools for App Prototyping

[“Prototyping a new App” by Pascal Maramis is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

There are many reasons why students design and prototype apps, before coding a fully functioning app. In ACARA Digital Technologies, students:

  • analyse problems and design, implement and evaluate a range of digital solutions
  • consider the functional and non-functional requirements of a solution through interacting with clients and regularly reviewing processes. They consolidate their algorithmic design skills to incorporate testing and review, and further develop their understanding of the user experience to incorporate a wider variety of user needs.

An excellent course, that covers this is’s CSD Unit 4 – The Design Process. In this course, students learn about solving problems with technologies and iteratively design and test a paper prototype before coding a digital prototype in their App Lab environment.

In other subject areas, such as business and enterprise education, students design a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as a prototype solution only and rarely code a fully functioning solution. An excellent example course is Apps for Good.

I have a senior Applied ICT class and their project was to design a prototype app for a local business. Part of the assessment was to identify the software that was best suited to the task, so we set about trying, testing and reviewing the following:

App Lab (

This was their number one pick as it is very easy to drag and drop elements and with guidance, create multi-screen apps.

From a teaching point of view, the learning curve for setting up access is a bit steep, but well worth the effort.

The big advantage with App Lab is that you can start and end with prototyping if you want (which only requires one line of code to navigate between screens) or go on to build fully functioning apps. When I used App Lab with another class, we completed  CSD Unit 4 – The Design Process one term and then dived much deeper into javascript App programming in CSP Unit 5 – Building Apps.


Our next pick was appshed as it came with an easy to follow course , was easy to register and testing a live version on student phones was easy.

We used the free version, which meant that there were ads everywhere; but this was not actually very noticeable. The paid version is very cost effective and is a good idea if you want to expand beyond prototyping. I notice from the comparison page that there are javascript, PHP, SQL and IoT technologies for Raspberry Pi and Arduino; must explore further.


Another similar App builder was Blippit. This was not well received as the interface was a bit confusing and students needed to be registered and could only work on one project with the free version.

We were only experimenting with bare bones prototyping, so I can’t say how the blippit blocks or purecode python works.

Unlike Appshed, you really need to upgrade to one of their plans to get full functionality and I think Appshed is probably better value for money.

App Inventor

Although there are a few clones, such as AppyBuilder and Thunkable that have become popular, I notice that App Inventor is still the goto App builder for most IoT projects.

In terms of basic prototyping, App Inventor is much like App Lab and easy to create digital screen designs and code basic navigation. Just like App Lab, it is also very extensible.

App Inventor is probably still the best supported technology, with a large volume of tutorials and guides available. Of course, at the end of the day, it only ports to Android.


AppyBuilder is a clone of App Inventor, so very similar features. One big disadvantage was the need for a google account and then it probably only ports to Android devices.


Thunkable is another google sign on, but can be published to Android or iOS. The downside is that this is not an entry level App builder and is not well supported with tutorials and guides. However, you could use the tutorials and guides for App Inventor and rig them for Thunkable.


Marvel is purely a prototyping app builder. We didn’t test this out and this is an afterthought. According to its splashpage: “With the Marvel design platform, access all the core functionality you need to build digital products – wireframe, prototype and generate design specs in one place.” Another similar one is An other similar one is This stands out because it also has built in guidance for User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) design.


Cognitive Verbs within Digital Technologies

command prompts

I front-load my curriculum, by backwards mapping my summative assessment; starting a unit plan with what I want to summatively assess and then breaking the knowledge and skills required into formative chunks or topics. Each topic is then based on the learning intentions and success criteria of the summative assessment task. Therefore, I put a fair bit of effort into mapping the Cognitive Verbs from the syllabus (ACARA Digital Technologies, in my case). I also concentrate on the assessment prompts and the questions I need to ask.

To make sure that this is both rigorous and effective, I have developed a place-mat that I can quickly refer to:

The first file is a template that can be used for any subject area and is based on Marzano’s Taxonomy. The definitions can be gained from the QCAA Glossary of cognitive verbs. The second is one I developed for Digital Technologies and it has the inclusion of the problem solving process.

I hope you find this useful.

Metaverse Augmented Reality (AR) App for Learning

View story at

Recently, I have been playing with Augmented Reality (AR) in my classroom, after discovering Metaverse. Download the app and then scan my first attempt at a breakout game.

One thing that I learned is that I don’t know how to design an escape or breakout game. Thankfully, the good people at BreakoutEDU have some good design tools. If I get the time, my next iteration should be better.

Apart from creating the odd breakout game for my classes, I plan on incorporating this into a future multi-modal project for my students. Another idea is to have my students design and build AR learning experiences for other teachers, as part of their assessment.

The Metaverse site has a whole host of ideas and uses for the app. Try some in your classroom.

Solving Digital Problems

[“digitalism” by orvalrochefort is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

I have just finished developing a unit of work around solving digital problems. This is targeted at year 10 Digital Technologies and is a foundation to year 11 Digital Solutions, Topic 1: Understanding digital problems.

I am indebted to for their Computer Science Discoveries course for the bulk of the curriculum resources. I have adapted them to align to the Pedagogical Framework that I use when teaching Digital Technologies.

You can access the Scheme of Work here.


Explicit Instruction, Problem Solving, The Middle Way and other 21st Century Skills

I have spent the year trying to make inroads into Project-Based Learning and I have decided that it doesn’t fit my needs or context. On top of this, it seems to have dubious efficacy for A-E outcomes and learning by inquiry has a low effect size (0.35). It probably is very good for developing a Growth Mindset and other ‘soft skills’, such as collaboration and social and personal skills, but these are not measured by any standards in any syllabus that I use. So, for next year, I am going to focus on ‘The Middle Way’.

Why Explicit Instruction?

Explicit Instruction is my Pedagogical Framework and common language of instruction. It is important that I maintain this learning culture and support my colleagues by being consistent in my practices.

Hattie’s Effect Size 2016 Update reiterates the significant effect of Direct Instruction and adds collective teacher efficacy as making a big difference.

Why Problem Solving?

Teaching problem solving has a higher effect size than Direct Instruction. In the Technologies learning area, we use the Problem-based learning framework. [Digital Solutions 2019 v1.0 General Senior Syllabus – QCAA]

Why 21st Century Skills

This should be a known factor by now, but some recent articles are:

The New Basics – Foundation for Young Australians

The Commonwealth Bank jobs and skills of the future report.

Australian Curriculum General Capabilities

Read also: Digital Solutions 2019 v1.0 General Senior Syllabus – QCAA

What is the Middle Way

A balance needs to be struck between:

  1. Explicit Instruction and learning by Inquiry
  2. Teacher directed and Student directed
  3. Projects and Project-Based Learning (PBL)

The balance between Explicit Instruction and learning by Inquiry

The majority of research backs the effectiveness of Explicit Instruction; particularly for A-E data. Inquiry-based teaching has an effect size of 0.35 (below 0.4 significance), compared with 0.6 for Direct Instruction.

However, being able to inquire is an important 21st century skill. As part of their place in our contemporary world, students need to be able to define what they need to know and plan a search to find the answer; locate data and information; and select and evaluate the answer. Another important 21st Century behaviour or quality is for students to be self-managing and self-directed.

The Middle Way strikes a balance between the two by modelling and guiding students through the inquiry process. With the gradual release of responsibility, the goal is always to impart these skills so that students can apply them independently.

The balance between Teacher directed and Student directed

It is clear that Teacher led instruction is more effective than purely Student led learning. However, in the Technologies learning area, the problems that we want students to tackle are often complex and don’t benefit from teacher imposed constraints. To account for this, we will head the advice in Digital Solutions 2019 v1.0 General Senior Syllabus – QCAA:

In technologies:

– problem-based learning is an active process of knowledge construction that uses open-ended problems as a stimulus for student learning

– problems that support problem-based learning should challenge and motivate students to engage their interest

– provide opportunities for students to examine the problem from multiple perspectives or disciplines

– provide multiple possible solutions and solution paths

– require students to comprehend and use a breadth and depth of knowledge during problem-solving

– recognise students’ prior knowledge

– recognise students’ stage of cognitive development

– provide opportunities to allow all students to explore innovative open-ended solutions

– relate to the real world

– the learning environment is organised to represent the complex nature of the problems students are required to solve, e.g. the learning area values collaboration using teamwork and brainstorming, as these are strategies used during real-world problem-solving

– the teacher is responsible for scaffolding student learning and cognition during problem- solving as a coach, guide or facilitator to maintain the independence and self-directedness of student learning

– self-directed learning does not mean students are self-taught; instead, teachers balance their participation so that students maintain responsibility for learning, e.g. students make decisions about the knowledge and skills they require to effectively solve a problem, supported by the teacher’s questioning and cueing strategies

– the perception of student self-direction in the learning process is fundamental to problem- based learning.


Central to problem-based learning is the provision or identification of suitably challenging, subject-specific, context-relevant, real-world problems. Student engagement with these problems facilitates student learning of Digital Solutions subject matter. Problems suitable for Digital Solutions:

– are identified as any human need, want or opportunity that requires a new or re-imagined digital solution

– are identified by teachers, clients and/or students in situations related to unit-specific and subject-relevant technologies elements, components, principles and processes

– promote purposeful analytical activities undertaken in response to an identified real-world related problem that requires a digital solution

– are resolved using the problem-solving process.

The balance between Projects and Project-Based Learning (PBL)

The big difference between “Doing Projects” and PBL is the process. Amy Mayer has compared the two:

[What’s the Difference Between “Doing Projects” and Project Based Learning ?Image attribution flickr user josekevo; The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning; © Amy Mayer, @friEdTechnologyThe Original WOW! Academy,]

The main factor that separates the two is rigorous assessment. PBL is excellent for fostering 21st Century and “soft skills”, but these are not ultimately measured and have no standards in syllabus documents. Every year at ABW everyone agrees that they see anecdotal (students are actively engaged in activity) evidence of good learning outcomes; and these are mainly “soft skills”. But when you drill down, the learning is not linked or assessed against any curriculum standards.

The main pillar of PBL is student led inquiry and this has been shown to have a low effect size. In my own attempts at PBL, I ended up scaffolding the process for rigorous assessment so much that it became much closer to Teacher led Explicit Instruction. PBL may be very effective if it is overlayed on a learning culture with a growth mindset, student agency and self-management and students have well developed social and emotional skills.

The middle way strikes a balance between the two and marshals explicit teacher guidance throughout the problem solving cycle, with constant formative assessment, coupled with the gradual release of responsibility for summative assessment. 21st Century and future skills and behaviours are still embedded throughout but they are explicitly modelled and taught. Students need spaced practice and the gradual release of responsibility to formatively master these skills before being released on their own and summatively assessed. Likewise, with the problem solving cycle. Students will need to go through several iterations before they can work independently.

The balance between Explicit Instruction and Blended learning

Blended learning works well when there is a high level of students agency and self-management, coupled with a Growth Mindset. However, if you are not quite there yet, try Not Quite Blended learning.

In the technologies area, there are many online self-paced courses; that even have learning management built in. There are others that have a series of video tutorials to follow and you can easily create a schedule for students to follow. To increase the effectiveness of student learning with these, it is a good idea to leverage both Pair Programming and the Gradual Release of Responsibility within Explicit Instruction. To do this, start off modelling (I do) the process of watching an instructional video or interactive presentation, pausing and reproducing the instructions within the application or development environment. In pair programming, this would be one screen for the instructions and one for the development environment. Then students can follow (We Do) until you are confident that they can keep going independently (You Do). You may need to keep going with this process from lesson to lesson with the below proficiency students, while the above proficiency students may go off ahead; effectively differentiating and personalising learning.

Continue Reading…..


Coding the Parrot Mambo Drone

The Parrot Mambo drone can be coded via the Tynker App (iOS, Android) or via Swift Playground. If you choose Tynker, then you may need to enroll students (at cost) into their stunt pilot course. The Swift Playground, Parrot Education Accessory is free and will lead students through coding the drone rather than dragging and dropping blocks (as with Tynker).

I am currently working with a year 9 class, with an emphasis on developing algorithms, using the problem solving project sequence below.


  • team building
  • team work plan
  • design brief


  • how to fly the drone
  • how to program the drone
  • identify what you need to know and the skills you need to complete the project


  • what is an algorithm
  • what is pseudocode
  • algorithm design


  • code the drone
  • publish a project portfolio


  • evaluate process and production skills



Using drones is a good opportunity to develop student ‘soft skills’ such as collaboration and communication because it forces you to work in a larger space than a normal classroom and with limited resources. I normally work in a computer lab, but needed to move to the library where the class could access the space as well as ipads. Back in the normal classroom, students are able to work on other aspects of their project.

You could extend on this and have students design and build the obstacle course. I started off on this path but realised that I needed a proper makerspace, with art supplies, storage for student projects and project spaces for teams to ‘make a mess’. If you have a makerspace, maybe give my  Drone Game Board Unit Plan a go.

How to Create Student Portfolios Using Padlet


Student ePortfolios are a great option because students are able to present digital evidence of their learning to a wide (and even global) or restricted audience. Additionally, the artifacts and products of their learning can be multi-modal and produced using technology. If you intend on taking this path, I recommend using the 5-by-5 Model of portfolio development. In particular, reflective portfolios are particularly powerful.


Other Technologies – online system to manage student portfolios – another online system to manage student portfolios – free and easy online website creation system. – another free and easy online website creation system.



Digital Content Linked To The Australian Curriculum: Start Using Scootle Today!


Scootle ( provides access to more than 20,000 items of digital curriculum content published by Education Services Australia. Most of these link directly from The Australian Curriculum website. For example, when seeking resources for ACSSU113, there is an obvious link to Discover resources at scootle:

Otherwise, by going directly to scootle, teachers can find interactive learning objects, images, audio files and movie clips via browse, search and filter technology. Then they can create personal lists of favourite resources for quick access.

Discovering Learning Content

You can find the content that you need by performing either a Basic or Advanced search. My advice is to consult the Scootle User Guide as this is a skill in itself, but one worth investing some time in. Another place to find help is within the Scootle users demonstrations, Education Services Australia, YouTube playlist. Again, the best way to discover content is to find content by Australian Curriculum. Then your search will yield all digital curriculum resources that fall within the curriculum content and year level that you are seeking.

Learning Paths

Probably the best feature on the scootle site is the ability to create and manage Learning Paths. A learning path includes a sequence of learning content, interwoven with teacher comments and descriptions and delivered to students either online (by use of the student PIN) or offline (by using an exported learning path spreadsheet or PDF). This system stops just short of being a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard. I would still use it to sequence my learning and link to it via my Virtual Classroom. I can’t emphasize enough what a great system for sequencing learning this is. If you are contemplating using it, I highly recommend consulting the Scootle User Guide and the Scootle users demonstrations, Education Services Australia, YouTube playlist.

Collaborative Activity

Learning in a collaborative or interdependent way provides students with a social and intellectual context for greater levels of critical thinking, motivation, peer review and self-reflection. These opportunities are outlined in the ACARA General Capabilities.

ACARA General Capabilities

Scootle’s has big range of collaborative activities in an environment where students collaborate to build understanding, express their learning and receive  feedback. Some of the features of Scootle’s live workspace that support collaboration are:

• a dynamic environment – Students can add their own text, comments and online resources, and rearrange the workspace to build a structured, collaborative response to a task.
• feedback – Ongoing feedback is available from the teacher at any time for student reflection and meaningful formative assessment.
• online identity – Students choose nicknames and avatars for themselves in the live workspace.
• Scootle chat – Chat in real time, with all discussions recorded and available for feedback and reference for students and teacher.
• file upload and sharing – Students can upload their own files and resources to attach to a learning activity

Assessment resource

Many of the digital content items available are assessment resources. These can be used as a check for understanding as part of a Learning Path. I have also seen them used in a summative way as well. I would use these because they are linked directly to the Learning Goals of my content area of the Australian Curriculum and therefore rigorous. It also means that I don’t have to create an assessment item, print it out and mark it as it is all online and automated.

Start using Scootle today!




Creating and Communicating with ICT using Weebly

In the Australian Curriculum, students develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capability as they learn within and across disciplines.

ACARA ICT Capability
ACARA ICT Capability

Weebly for Education can be employed to compile information together in a different way or collaboratively constructing knowledge; as well as sharing and publishing the products of their learning. There a many other free online systems for creating websites, but this is the only one that is not blocked by our firewall. This is a great system to use for a Mulitimodal response from your students. Why not build this into your next assessment task.

Have your students view the quickstart guide below. From there, the system is very intuitive and will require very little input from you. Why not have them work in collaborative pairs and help each other on a shared artifact of learning.