Hacking School System with App Inventor at Preface

Originally published at MIT App Inventor Official Blog on April 22, 2019


This is a guest blog by MIT Master Trainer Anna Yu

Recently we sat down with the February Winners of Nomad Hackathon and interviewed them about the experience of learning how to code at Preface using App Inventor and Scratch.

Nomad Hackathon is a monthly coding event in which the young coding students in Preface create useful apps for the local community. In February, we witnessed two groups of coding students transforming into product makers. Brandon, Sik Kin and Macarius teamed up and created a loyalty app using App Inventor, while Jacqueline created an interactive translation app with Scratch.

The Beginning

(From left to right) Brandon Chan, Sik-kin Chan and Macarius Chan — the brains behind the Preface Coffee Loyalty App

Brandon, Sik Kin and Macarius have been coding for years now. None of them were older than 10 years old when they first started coding.

“I was five when I started learning Scratch”, smiled Brandon. At the age of 10, he has already coded up more apps than an average adult in Hong Kong. Both Brandon and Macarius started coding because they wanted to have their own creations. “I liked to play video games a lot, and I was very curious about how to make one myself. But then my day school doesn’t really teach us that.”

“I was five when I started learning Scratch”, smiled Brandon. At the age of 10, he has already coded up more apps than an average adult in Hong Kong.

The First Challenge

It’s a big problem that the local school system sees as non-existent. While there is some form of computer classes at school, it hardly matches the learning needs of school kids.

“My school doesn’t provide any coding classes until I get older.”

Jacqueline explained why she started coding at Preface.

Even when there’s a class, it still doesn’t guarantee a chance to learn. “The coding projects at school are sometimes too easy. By the time the teacher finished explaining what the project is, I have already done most of the codes for it”, shrugged Macarius.

Tackling the Challenge

The average class size of a day school in Hong Kong is 32 kids, all with different personal experiences, interests and needs in learning. The challenge for a teacher to ensure the teaching quality and class engagement is monstrous and, as a matter of fact, unrealistic.

Brandon compared his experience at school with Preface and revealed the fundamental difference in learning experience owing to the class size.

“The class is too big and the teacher cannot answer every question we have. However, at Preface, every group class has only two to three kids. Our teacher never fails to answer our questions. They also teach us how to find the answer ourselves instead of telling us the answer straight away. And the projects are so fun to work on.”

“At Preface, every group class has only two to three kids. Our teacher never fails to answer our questions. And the projects are so fun to work on.”

— Brandon Chan, App Inventor student at Preface Nomad

Sik-kin put his shyness away with excitement when he talked about the games he built with App Inventor, such as Space Shooting Fun or Farming RP.

“We learn really fast while making these fun games”, Sik-kin continued, “we like the challenges”.

— Sik-kin Chan, App Inventor student at Preface Nomad

Hacking Education with Hackathon

While they learn how to work independently in regular classes, our coding students learn to collaborate and leverage the strength of each other during Nomad Hackathon.

“I’ve never missed a single Hackathon after I started having coding classes here. I want to see what other kids are doing and learn from them”, said Brandon.

The high relevance of the Hackathon projects to real-life problems is proved very effective in motivating students to practise what they’ve learnt.

Hackathon is much more valuable for their learning than a simple exercise or exam that only challenges their short-term memory. Coding is a brand new subject for young kids; it requires a brand new approach in delivering the know-how. The century-old setup of an overcrowded classroom is failing hard as our new generation of learners has told us. Getting the approach right is half the battle done; at Preface, we place a strong focus on the approach. We keep our classes small, our projects relevant, and our students highly engaged.

Coding is a brand new subject for young kids; it requires a brand new approach in delivering the know-how.

At the end of the day, we give them a stage — Preface Hackathon is not just another coding class; it is a platform for the young students to prove to themselves — and the community — that they have learnt something exciting.


Sik-kin concluded our conversation with a big picture of himself in the future.

“I want to be a professional coder when I grow up, and teach young kids about coding with what I know from my years.”

Although Sik-kin is only 10 years old now, his vision doesn’t seem too wild for us. We are confident that our young students will give back to the community in their own ways in a not-so-distant future.

Congratulations to our February Winners again!

Preface Nomad

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