There are many stories about competition and strife in US-China relations, as well as the profound differences in our cultures. This is a story, instead, of collaboration, the story of US and Chinese citizens uniting for the common goal of better educating students for the 21st century. What better agent than education to illustrate the amazing commonalities between peoples?
MIT App Inventor is the catalyst of change, a coding language perfectly suited for teaching and inspiring young people to learn how to create and solve problems in our rapidly digitizing world. While App Inventor education has rapidly expanded in the US since its inception at Google in 2009, it has been widely unavailable in China. Thanks to the efforts of the extended MIT App Inventor team and some extraordinary educators in China, this creative way of teaching computational thinking is now also taking off in China.
Hal Abelson, director of the MIT App Inventor team, has led the project from the US side. App Inventor was inaccessible in China because it runs on Google infrastructure, so Hal, Jeff Schiller, Weihua Li, Andrew McKinney, and others facilitated the creation of a version that runs on a different infrastructure and thus can be accessed in China.
But this was only the start. With the help of the extraordinary MIT student Weihua Li, a plan was set in place to jumpstart App Inventor education in China through teacher and student workshops starting in the summer of 2014. The idea spread like rapid-fire and led to the 1st International Conference on Mobile Learning and Computational Thinking Education, Based on App Inventor, which was held in Guangzhou in June (2015)..
The conference included representatives from Hong Kong, Taiwan, UK, UNESCO, and the US, as well as over 200 educators from all over China.
I was honored to speak at the conference and to teach a workshop to some K-12 and university teachers. Ralph Morelli of Trinity College and mobile-csp.org also spoke and gave a workshop to about sixty middle schoolers, shown below. MIT was represented by Tech Lead Andrew McKinney, Felicia Kamriani, and the aforementioned WeiHua Li, who spoke at the conference and was also the key translator for the English speakers.
The real story, however, is the amazing efforts of educators in China who are helping spread App Inventor based education throughout the region and country. It is a joint university and governmental project perhaps best exemplified by South China University Professor Li Yue, the conference organizer who has led numerous teacher training workshops throughout South China. I was honored to see her in action, using her relentless energy and charm to teach and inspire.
Dr. Li organized a visit to a school where we saw first hand how App Inventor is making a difference: a roomful of energetic middle school students energized about building apps. Ralph Morelli gave them a workshop, teaching them how to build a “Selfie-Slideshow” app, and it was incredible to see the joy on the student’s faces. On a personal basis, I was happy to see that the students were using a translated version of the App Inventor book I co-authored (along with Hal, Ellen Spertus, and Liz Looney).
The conference and workshops didn’t solve the world’s problems, but a group of educators from East and West shared ideas on how best to educate young people for the jobs of tomorrow (as well as ideas on one-child policies, free speech, gun control, and the best Beatles songs to play at Karaouke). It was a highlight of my career to participate, not only to help spread a great method of educating students, but to help promote a collaborative spirit between the peoples of China and the US.