introducing Jumpbutton Studio

One of the goals of Apps & Maps Studios is to teach urban youth design and technology so that they can become entrepreneurs (see another story on this here.) It is being to bear fruits. One of our students, Nick Nicodemus, has started a start-up building mobile games, called Jumpbutton Studio. He started the company together with other young developers around the country. I am excited to form a partnership with them to further develop some of the Apps & Maps projects into commercially available products. 

Apps and Maps BITs 2014 Summer Program

Over the last three years, Temple University’s Urban Apps & Maps Studios has been running Apps & Maps BITs Summer Program. This year, 95 girls and 84 boys are participating in the program. They are working with over 30 Temple students who are supervised by 10 Temple faculty members from Information Systems, Geography and Urban Studies, Electrical Engineering, Computer & Information Science, English, Arts and Entrepreneurship. From July 1 through August 5, these students will learn three essential digital literacy skills – design thinking, computational thinking and spatial thinking – by working on a number of different hands-on projects. The program is funded by EDA, Knight Foundation and Philadelphia Youth Network

This year’s cohort represents the largest one in recent years, thanks to several information sessions that we ran in North Philadelphia in partnership with Navarrow Wright, who is a role model of our students and an active voice for digital inclusion. In his talk shown in the video clip below, Mr. Wright mixes his own personal experiences and his professional experts on IT industry to communicate to parents and students why they should learn new digital skills. 

As technology is becoming cheaper and easier to use, the barrier to enter into the creative economic activities is rapidly coming down. Traditional university-based technology commercialization programs require years of graduate school training, a host of PhDs and post-docs, and millions of dollars worthy of investments and labs. These projects and programs were not accessible to the members of the urban community in which our university is situated. Unlike those traditional university projects, Apps & Maps program offers a new type of technology-based  commercialization path that was not previously available to urban minority community in the past. Information technology in many ways has been one of the main cause of “deindustrialization” of urban America. Through automation and off-shoring, both of which are enabled by information technology, industrial bases in urban cities left the cities. However, the deep penetration of digital technology into the fabric of today’s urban community offers an opportunity to revive the urban economy through citizen entrepreneurship leveraging digital literacy skills and their keen understanding on various challenges in urban market. What we need is to provide an opportunity to these young men and women in Philadelphia to try to dream and build something that capture their own imaginations. Urban Apps & Maps is designed to provide such an opportunity.

This year, our students will work on the following projects:

  • Building Bluetooth controlled RC cars
  • Internet enabled device to measure airborne pollution
  • Mapping Philadelphia Urban Ecology (vacant lands, natural parks, urban forests and heat islands, urban farming and food access, water supply)
  • Designing a mobile app for freshmen on Temple campus
  • Designing a mobile app for Catcha (web-based shoplifting prevention network)
  • Designing a community book sharing web site
  • Information visualization of the General Internal Medicine Department of Temple Hospital
  • Designing an app for North Broad community
  • Theatre production for native Philadelphians
  • Mapping streets arts and post industrialization of Philadelphia 

As the importance of digital technology and its potential for economic development is increasingly recognized, there are growing number of programs that teach programming skills to the youth. While clearly coding itself is important, tools to build solutions without proper skills to identify and contextualize the problem and design a solution is even more important. This is why Apps & Maps emphasizes design thinking and spatial thinking together with computational thinking and begins with a design workshop. On Day 2 and Day 3 of the program, students started the workshop by visualizing their identity using various objects available. Students all chose different ways to express their aspirations, dreams and hopes.

 The design task was to reimagine the lunch experience on Temple campus. Through the workshop, they learn how to conduct collaboration, empathic observation, prototyping, persona building, and brainstorming.  Through the workshop, they learn to answer the five key questions: 

  • From the observation, what inspires you the most, good or bad?
  • Who are the affected stakeholders and their relationships?
  • What are the unmet needs and why are they important?
  • What is your solution to meet the unmet needs?
  • What are the resources you need to create and sustain the solution?

Below are some of the pictures from the students working on the project during the workshop.

The importance of design as also reenforced by the first guest speaker, Cey Adams, a graphic designer, visual artist and author, who was the founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings and is known for his legendary work for hip-hop artists like Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Jay-Z, and Mary J. Blige. I did a short interview with him before his talk to our students in which talks about various aspects of design and why design is so important in today’s world. 


In weeks to come, we will continue to share more stories of our projects and participants. 





The 21st Century’s “Acres of Diamonds”

The rapid and pervasive development of digital technologies have brought unprecedented opportunities for innovations in our society. Tools like smart phones and social media are fundamentally changing the way we work and live. In many cases, these innovations have improved the quality of lives. Furthermore, these innovations have unleashed a new wave of entrepreneurial activities that define American spirit. However, unfortunately, the consequences of digital innovations are not being felt equally by every member of our society. While the digital technology helps companies produce record-breaking profits, many urban communities are left jobless as traditional jobs are being increasingly automated and outsourced through the use of technology. Furthermore, even though the “digital divide” for basic access to digital infrastructure might be shrinking, there is a widening gap between those who create and those who consume new digital innovations. Reducing the growing economic gap and the widening “digital creative divide” is a moral, economic and social imperative for our society.

Temple Unversity’s Urban Apps & Maps program is our response to this grand challenge of our society. It aims at eliminating the digital creative divide by providing real-life learning opportunities to urban youth in North Philadelphia. They learn to identify innovation opportunities in urban America, and then transform them into viable solutions through design, technology and entrepreneurship. This booklet provides a sneak view of what our students were able to do in six weeks, when they were given tools, training, trust and opportunities to think on their own. They ideas are creative, real and practical. We are all inspired by the ingenuity, wit and grit of our students.

The overwhelming success of our summer program is another reaffirmation of the approach that Temple University has taken over the last decade to work with urban youth and neighboring community. This is an approach based on a shared belief and commitment: that our urban community is an incredible source of innovations; that our urban youth are ready to learn new skills for the 21st century; and, that when we invest on our youth, they are ready to build new tools that solves real-world problems.

At the turn of last century, Dr. Russell Conwell once said, “We must know what the world needs first, and then invest ourselves to supply that need, and success is almost certain.” With Urban Apps & Maps program, we are preparing our youth to become the next generation urban leaders who can supply the tools that world needs. With this anticipation, we are looking forward to continuing to work with our students in coming years.

(This is to be included in the report from Apps & Maps 2013 Summer Progrm).

Apps & Maps summer program (1)

From July 1, 119 Philadelphia area youth (13 – 19 year old, 69 of them are girls!) are learning various digital literacy skills through projects, lectures, field trips and workshops. They spend six weeks on Temple campus,  working in different groups throughout the campus to work on various projects: designing small business app, exploring culture and youth in Philadelphia, creating heart monitoring and music app, designing monopoly game with Philadelphia map, and creating community-based book sharing site. All of them received basic web programming including HTML and Ruby. They also have a chance to listen to various speakers including a world renowned English literature scholar, a TV producer, a venture capitalist, a technology social entrepreneur, Philadelphia’s Chief Data Officer, and a digital media entrepreneur. 



Supported by the generous funding from Knight FoundationEDA, and PYN, the program’s goal is to reach out urban youth during the summer and teach them with digital literacy. The three core components of digital literacy are design thinking, computational thinking and spatial thinking. Through design thinking, we help students to gain contextual understanding of intractable complex social challenges from multiple stakeholder perspectives and their unmet needs. They learn how to visualize their ideas and the value of rapid prototyping. By computational thinking, we teach them basic pattern of complex problem solving approaches through abstraction, decomposition, and iterations that allow algorithmic approaches to a problem. To teach computational thinking, we draw on various wonderful on-line resources including Hackety HackCode Academy and W3 Schools.



A group 24 participants (dubbed as “coding group”) learned HTML5, CSS, MySQL and PHP – a basic suite of web programming languages that are used for virtually all web sites. They also learned information architecture and database design. They learn through collaborating with each other. Some kids are clearly faster learners and better coders than others. Yet, they are asked to help each other, pulling those who are falling behind.  What is truly amazing is that these students all learned how to set up an interactive dynamic web site using PHP and MySQL in four weeks! Some are now sweating to figure out how to integrate Facebook and Twitter into their sites. Watching them working on these projects is just simply inspiring. 

A group of girls working with Professor Li Bai and his graduate students learned how to program Arduino.  They figured out how to write code to monitor hear rate. I will write more about them later. Their work is truly amazing. I think they can introduce a completely new product that companies like Samsung or Nokia should be interested in.



We will have our open house to celebrate their great work next Thursday. I will post more detailed information about our open house here soon, along with many other great stories about our students. So, please stay tuned.