Prototype training with the Detroit Police Athletic League

Michigan State University is offering a new training for educators to solve community challenges through basics of design and coding within the iOS ecosystem. Using Apple’s Challenge Based Learning curriculum, this training guides educators in understanding the app development process, practicing coding in Swift, and designing viable prototypes.

Computing in the 21st century

U.S. society is surrounded by the Internet, apps, social media, and a multitude of other technologies. But while computing is responsible for most of the hardware and software we use, a considerable amount of students — with a higher rate for girls and underrepresented minorities — are not taught to understand, analyze, and create the tools and media they use on a daily basis.

The need for computing education

Computing education in the 21st century has implications not only for economic and workforce development, but also for social justice, creativity, citizenship, and personal agency. Equitable access to CS education to all is key to respond both to the demand for qualified workers in computing-related jobs, and to develop the critical thinking and innovation skills needed to solve challenges in an increasingly complex, digital, and global world.

The iOS Design Lab

The iOS Design Lab was created at Michigan State University as a learning experience that prepares learners for innovation in the digital age. By bringing design and technology together within Apple’s iOS ecosystem, the lab is a space that amplifies learners’ existing skills with the integrative mindset that is needed in our global economy and society.

“iOS” is the tool

We help learners understand the importance of computing skills, and to practice the basics of coding in Apple’s language, Swift. We follow Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum, and use a variety of activities — sometimes without technology — to familiarize learners with ways to solve problems with technology.

“Design” is the method

We use a challenge-based learning (CBL) approach to encourage learners to address challenges in their communities through research, planning, and engagement with users. Design is both a verb and a noun in this process. Learners design their way through prototyping their ideas based on a solid foundation.

“Lab” is the mindset

We aim to create a learning space similar to a lab, where learners can try and fail safely, and where they work in teams to brainstorm and creatively solve problems. It is a space where they learn to communicate, set expectations for their team, and collaborate with people from different backgrounds and value other perspectives on their work.

Pilot with Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL)

This summer, Michigan State University (MSU) partnered with Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) to pilot a training program for PAL educators who will offer app design and coding camps for Detroit youth. PAL’s GREAT model (Goal setting, Resilience, Embracing a healthy lifestyle, Accountability, Teamwork) and the iOS Design Lab’s mission align with Apple and MSU’s goal to provide all learners with meaningful experiences around technology. The one-week training introduced educators to the app development process from a design perspective, and taught them to pitch an app prototype that responds to a community challenge of their choice.

Challenge-Based Learning

The iOS Design Lab follows Apple’s Challenge-Based Learning framework, where learners chose to develop an app that responds to a community challenge of their interest. We guided the participants through design thinking processes to identify a challenge, and followed design sprint methodologies to narrow down a manageable challenge for the week. Four groups identified challenges in the Detroit community: 1) support for Black single parents, 2) budget-friendly health and nutrition, 3) access to school resources, and 4) youth mentoring. The images below show the divergent and convergent processes of clustering ideas to select a small-enough challenge to tackle for the week.


In this training, design is treated as both a verb and a noun. That is, we asked participants to design (ie., to plan, to sketch, to decide) for their app design (i.e., wire-frames, prototypes, user flow). First, we walked participants through decision making steps around user-centered research using the Internet, empathy maps, and informal user interviews. As a result, each group started building their own processes to visualize what their app would look like.

We then walked participants through rapid analog prototype sessions to receive peer feedback, both direct and anonymous. This allowed each team to get sense from potential users of what parts of their design works or needed revision.


Design sessions were interlaced with coding activities. We followed Apple Everyone Can Code curriculum to introduce participants to Swift Playgrounds and walk them through coding basics. We encouraged peer-to-peer learning when appropriate, and provided individual support for learners who did not have any prior coding knowledge.

The training was centered around adult involvement around technology and app development for youth. It was therefore important for adult participants to see how children were interacting with coding activities. We encouraged parents to bring their children to the coding sessions and to work together on creating code and solving the Swift Playground challenges together.


In addition to design and coding, the iOS Design Lab teaches basics of entrepreneurship (ie., app economy, market research, pitching). Each team was tasked with creating a recorded pitch of their app idea on their iPads. We used Apple’s Everyone Can Create curriculum to encourage the use of iMovie or Keynote to produce the pitches — which were then shared with the group.


For more information about the iOS Design Lab, contact Dr. Sarah Gretter:

Written by

MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology

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