Why did we make the decision to create a student App? What did we decide to do differently? Who are we aiming it at? What little hiccups happened along the way?
The Birth of the Idea
The first seed of an idea started forming well over a year ago. There were new specifications being delivered (once they had finally been accredited, of course). There were more headlines about the lack of girls pursuing Physics courses. There were teachers talking about lack of engagement by the end of a three year course (more and more schools are delivering GCSE courses over three years now).
So, the plan was: create a tool that was as appealing to girls as it was boys. Something that provided a highly visual description of the GCSE content. Something that students without textbooks could use as a homework resource. Something that could show the students all the equations they now have to recall for their exams. Something that catered for both tiers of entry as well as for double and triple students. Something that worked for more than one exam board, because students do move school during the key stage and we thought they should be able to keep something they are familiar with.
There were quite a few boxes to tick.
Initially this was going to be a web based project, but after some preliminary investigation we decided this was not a path we wanted to take. Not all students have unlimited data allowance and we wanted them to be able to access our new resource whenever and wherever they needed it. So an App it was to be.
The Development Process
There were three main aspects to the development of the App. The background architecture of the App, the user interface and the database.
We started by concentrating on the architecture. How were the pages going to interact and what information was being passed back and forth. Very early on in the process the decision was made to ‘upgrade’ to Windows10 from Windows8. A simple procedure it said. Well, a week later, following a complete clean re-build of our development machine we finally were the proud owners of a functioning Windows10 operating system. With nothing else. The whole hard drive had to be re-formatted so good-bye word-processing software, good-bye spreadsheets and good-bye development software. At least we did back up our files!
Anyway, after re-installing the world we were off once again. The database structure was decided so it was time to build the content. We started off working with the draft specifications, assuming that not too much would change between draft and accredited versions. The three exam boards we picked to develop for all changed enough to be a problem, so we started again.
Breaking the specifications down into topics and sub-topics was great fun. We had to make interesting images for the chunks of information that would be appealing, stimulating and useful. It was also far more time consuming than anticipated. There is actually quite a lot of content in GCSE physics, despite what the media might have you believe. There are several differences between the different exam boards, so the wording had to be correct for each. For instance, the value of acceleration due to gravity is different depending on your exam board!
The user interface was the final piece of the puzzle. What should it look like? How should it be different in landscape or on a tablet?
One of the most annoying development problems that took days to solve was actually down to a bug in the development software version we were using. Someone said ‘ let’s upgrade…’. No, let’s not.
Launching an App is rather like sending your child off to University. Will it be liked? Will it be successful? Will it work? What problems will it encounter? What improvements will people suggest it makes?
We called the App ‘Totally Love Physics’ because we did put all our love into it, and we love the outcome. Just like with our real children. We hope you love it too.
Having said that, there are already new features we want to try for version 2…
A Windows 10 and iOS version are in the pipeline. The Windows one will come first. This is because we do not have a Mac to build an iOS app on yet. We are working up the courage to build another development machine from scratch!
Have a look at ‘Totally Love Physics’. Tell the teenagers in your life about it – they all have to do Physics GCSE after all. Let us know what you think.