Henry Friedlander used to sit in the same classroom at Shadyside Academy where he’s now asking sixth-grade students, “What do you think the verb is here?” He is back as a high school senior, testing out a grammar learning app that he developed for middle schoolers. He was inspired to create the app from his 8th-grade teacher at Shadyside Academy.
“My English grammar teacher asked, ‘Why isn’t there an app to create automatically-generated sentences and test you for it?'” Friedlander took that to heart and created one, learning to code mostly on his own. He started with a basic prototype and fine-tuned it into the app he named Grammatica Academy.
The kids at Shadyside Academy’s middle school seem to love it. “I feel like it’s a great way to practice and study if (the teacher) gives out a quiz,” says Lizzie Uhlman. “It sort of challenges you. Some are easy, some are harder, some are medium,” Rohan Shirishrimao adds.
Just the fact that it’s not a paper worksheet is a big asset. “I think this is a lot better because everyone wants to use technology,” says Charlie Johnson, “and I think it’s fun to use it on an Ipad more than writing it down.”
The sentences Friedlander’s program generates can be nonsensical and funny because they are computer generated, like this one, “The pilot was happy the teacher was boring.” He says, as a kid himself, he knows that’s why kids like it more than the sentences in traditional workbooks. “It’s something someone in a company thought up that they thought would be the best way to teach grammar,” Friedlander says of worksheets and even some other computer grammar programs, “but sometimes the best way to teach grammar is to laugh and not know what’s coming.”
Sixth-grade student Elana Sobol says it teaches you as you do it because “You can get the answers right as you do it and don’t have to ask somebody if it’s right.”
The kids not only like the app, they’re inspired by Friedlander’s dedication and perseverance. He worked on his own at home over the course of four years to create this. All of that hard work is paying off. “Seeing other people really happy and using it and how it might be used even at my own school in classrooms that I was sitting in six years ago is really exciting,” Friedlander says.
Now that he’s tested his app with real kids, he’s going to work out some kinks and then hopes to offer it to more schools for free.