Kids are teachers in new academy | April 25, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - April 25, 2012

Kids are teachers in new academy

by Renee Batti

It all started as a fathers-and-sons project: La Entrada seventh-graders Max Colbert and Matthew Dillabough became intrigued by the idea of creating their own iPhone apps, and enlisted their dads to help them learn code and make products for Apple's App Store.

For six months beginning last year, the foursome immersed themselves in the project, building a number of apps relating to topics ranging from the computer game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" and Star Wars to the Lakers basketball team and celiac disease, according to Linda Itskovitz, Max's mother.

The fruits of their labor didn't take long to ripen: Both boys have had apps accepted by the App Store, they note with excitement.

Matthew's quiz on celiac disease is now available to the world of iPhone and iPad users, and he says he's close to having a second one — "with information and cool facts" about the disease, which he has — accepted as well.

And Max's app on "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Facts & Guide," is steadily making its way toward his goal of 100,000 downloads by June. The project demanded about 20 hours of research, he says, and he's done a number of updates since the app was first made available.

Their success has led to a recently completed pilot program of two weekend camps to teach other kids the art of the app: building them, submitting them to the App Store and, in the process, sharpening their presentation skills.

Now, the boys are gearing up for four one-week summer camp academies to teach sixth- through ninth-grade kids the skills they've developed over the last year. Their new enterprise, the Menlo App Academy, will be conducted in the converted pool house of the Atherton home of one of the families.

Even in an area that grows entrepreneurs like window box planters sprout marigolds, Max and Matthew are unusual, given their age and the academic demands on their time. Enthusiastic, articulate and demonstrably skilled in the areas of research and technology, the boys are as eager to share their skills in building apps through their academy as they are to share the passion they feel for the subjects they've built their apps around.

Matthew's father, Gary Dillabough, notes that the boys are also sharing their technical expertise with adults, and will hold a class for interested teachers at their school.

During the pilot program, the six participating students created apps on subjects including World Cup soccer, chess, Morse code, and others, with each participant completing a project.

For both the pilot program and the upcoming summer camp, Max and Matthew enlisted help from their brothers, fifth-graders at La Entrada. John Dillabough and William Colbert, who have also learned to build apps, do tech support and are the chief activity officers. The younger boys are also "in charge of snacks," their big brothers say.

Now that the pilot program is complete, the boys say they are eager to learn HTML, a program that will enable them to submit their apps to a firm, PhoneGap, that will make the apps available to users of electronics from makers other than Apple.

Meanwhile, they are taking applications for their summer camp academies — which are filling up fast. Ms. Itskovitz notes that the academies are "fully supervised," and designed for kids with little or no prior programming experience.

Each student will complete an app "that can be submitted to the App Store, and they will also hone their presentation skills in the process," she says. "Campers will present their apps to the group as if they were seeking funding from a venture capitalist, an idea that came from Matthew's dad, a local venture capitalist."

The cost for a one-week academy is $350. Matthew notes that they're offering one position in each academy on "full scholarship for kids of less advantage." The assistance will include making a computer available for the student to take home to work on his or her project.

Go to to learn more about the academy or to enroll in a summer camp academy.

Ms. Itskovitz and Brett Colbert are Max's parents. Matthew's parents are Gary and Michelle Dillabough.