Youngsters design their own mobile apps at AACC camp

The instructor for the application software-making camp at Anne Arundel Community College explained that his pupils' inventions must be at least 50 percent original work, to avoid the possibility of copyright infringement. The two dozen campers went to great lengths to ensure that their apps were unique.

Some went a bit further than others.


Johnathon Woodall of Airville, Pa., was part of a group that made a game involving a worker who discovers his boss has fired him. The object of the game is for the former employee to break into his ex-supervisor's office and bash him with a chair. Other objects are placed in the room at higher levels for a chance to bash for extra points.

The name of the game? "We're thinking of 'You're Fired,'" said Johnathon, 12, who attended "App Attack" last week, a weeklong camp for rising sixth- through eighth-graders that teaches the basics of mobile application design. Students created apps and games that could be used on phones or electronic tablets.


The camp is part of AACC's Kids in College summer program and is offered in partnership with New Jersey-based Black Rocket Productions, a technology education company that teaches children and educators how to create video games and digital media. The company serves more than 10,000 children in such venues as community colleges and public schools.

Black Rocket husband-and-wife instructors Rob and Anna McConnell teach groups of campers to make apps on Construct 2, a free game development engine. Each group has a flash drive with files and programs, and their finished apps will be uploaded to Black Rocket's server. Campers can play or make improvements to the apps as well as download fellow classmates' inventions.

"I want them to see that creating your own game can actually be fun," Anna McConnell said. "Sometimes starting your own game from scratch can seem kind of daunting. It's always fun to see what they take out of it."

The class also offered lessons on such topics as copyright infringement. Rob McConnell instructed students to draw one of the characters of the popular game "Angry Birds," using images from the game, to get a sense of how app characters are drawn. Then he told them to deviate from the "Angry Birds" image entirely to come up with their own creations.


"When you come up with something without looking at anything else, it's coming from yourselves, it's your imagination, your creativity," Rob McConnell told the students. "It's more your own object. That's how you can come up with creative characters and images that do not violate copyrights."

Some students said they knew little about copyright law before the class.

"It's really illegal in all states, and it's not fair to the company that you've copied off of. You should use your imagination, not copy," said Johnathon, who is attending the camp while visiting his grandmother, Patricia Flickner of Pasadena, for the summer. He said his idea for "You're Fired" originated from his desire to craft a game in which one character would hit another with a chair, and he figured an office setting was an ideal place to find many chairs.

Lucas Mazzuchelli of Arnold was part of a group that invented "TP Attack," which involves littering a home with rolls of toilet paper before police arrive.

"We thought it would be kind of a funny game," said Lucas, 12. "I will like to see how much money I can get from it and how many views and downloads I can get."

Grace Williamson of Annapolis was part of a group that worked on an app that displays the four elements — earth, wind, fire and water.

The 11-year-old said she has enjoyed the app-making class "because I'm really good at electronics, so this is a skill that I'd like to do at home."

Paula Williamson, Grace's mother, said the engaging classroom environment is a welcome alternative to other camp activities, particularly with record-setting temperatures this summer.


"It's a great outlet. It is nice to be outside and doing all the sports activities, which she does as well," Paula Williamson said, "but this kind of feeds their minds and their interests. With her being so interested in computers, it's such a great outlet for her to expand and develop her knowledge."

Rich Ginn, co-owner of Black Rocket Productions, said the company works with ACCC because it has sought to bring cutting-edge technology to youngsters in the county.

"We think that technology is the key to preparing kids for tomorrow," Ginn said. "Kids just think it's cool."