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RHS students explore app development

Tyler Voelker checks his iPhone to find the information he needs to register his new Nexus 7 tablet. Tanner Rons is also pictured. 1 / 2
Students in the advanced data structures class are Shaun Skirbec, Alex Duffy, Vy Le, Tanner Rons, Adric Towsley, Tyler Voelker, Emily Brossart and John Eidum. Jordan Lambpert is not pictured2 / 2

It was a little bit like Christmas morning last Thursday in T.J. Reinartz’s advanced data structures class at Rosemount High School. Seated in a rough square around the perimeter of the room, seven students pulled the plastic wrap off of boxes containing sleek black Nexus 7 tablet computers and started tapping the screen to enter their personal information.

The tablets, which run Google’s Android operating system, are the latest tool in the beyond-AP advanced computer science class. They’re tools for learning, but if things work out the way Reinartz imagines, they just might benefit the Rosemount community beyond the walls of RHS.

Reinartz applied for a grant from the Education Minnesota Foundation to pay for the tablets. He plans to use them to help his students get a feel for programming Android applications.

The students already have a list of potential apps — everything from Olympics events trackers to quiz bowl trivia to school planners — but Reinartz would also like to find groups or businesses in the community that could use a presence on smart phones and tablets. Students learn, Rosemount benefits and everybody wins.

All that is still a little ways off, though. The nine students in the advanced data structures class are splitting into teams now to start working on the apps. Reinartz hopes to have some draft apps by the end of the current trimester and finished products by the end of the school year.

Students are excited about the projects, which they will work on in addition to regular course work. And it’s not just because they got new tablets to play with. They like the idea that they can create something that might have a life beyond the pile of homework on their teacher’s desk.

“It’s pretty interesting,” Tyler Voelker said. “It’s cool to be able to contribute to the community.”

Reinartz chose the Android tablets over Apple’s iPads because Java, the language used to program Android apps, is more accessible for beginners.

“We’ll start with what we know in Java and go from there,” Reinartz said. “These guys are first-generation app developers. Hopefully soon we’ll have more tablets or a longer list.”

Reinartz sees a growing need for the kind of programming skills this project is meant to teach. Currently, the number of computer science students is not nearly enough to keep up with the open programming positions, he said.

“One of the goals is to bridge the gap and do our part at Rosemount High School to provide skilled programmers,” Reinartz said.

As part of meeting that goal, students in Reinartz’s class will help lead a summer computer science program for younger students. That teaching component is a requirement of the Education Minnesota Foundation grant.

Working on the apps will help students get familiar with writing and fixing computer code, implementing new ideas and making sure they work right.

The students are also pretty familiar with the end product. All nine students in Reinartz’s class have smart phones, although all but two have iPhones rather than Android devices.

Even if the apps won’t eventually land on their personal phone screens, students say they are excited for a project that allows them to create something tangible and, at least potentially, useful.

“I’m just excited to say this is something I can do,” student Emily Brossart said. “We’re creating apps, and that’s very different from everything else we’ve learned.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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