The Big App: Here Is New York

  • Learning
Yumi Nakanishi, Technology Integrator

Last spring, the entire 8th grade participated in an interdisciplinary project called the Big App: Here is New York. Through this project, each student created and published an app that highlighted communities in New York City. The intended outcome of the project was to inspire a stronger connection to a neighborhood and to deepen understanding of the local issues, cultures and stories. Students focused on the neighborhoods of Chelsea, Harlem, El Barrio (Spanish Harlem), Chinatown and Washington Heights. Each section of 8th graders took two field trips to explore and learn about their neighborhood’s unique landmarks. And through each of their disciplines – visual arts, English and World Course – the 8th graders studied the neighborhoods via a different lens.

In their visual arts class, students were introduced to an application called Lightwell, a digital creation tool. With Lightwell, students created an interactive app about the neighborhood. Each app included a home page featuring neighborhood photographs students had assembled into a collage during art class, an essay students wrote in English class and maps they had analyzed in World Course. Students gathered data about crime statistics, household income, racial distribution, real estate prices and education and compared the data sets to make conclusions about the neighborhood. The last scene in the app was a gallery of neighborhood photos taken by the student.

Designing an app using Lightwell.

Working on the app with Lightwell. 

Working on app design.

Designing the user experience. 

With Lightwell, the 8th graders learned about creating animations, key frames and ambient motion. Then they learned how to associate these animations to different interactions (such as tap, swipe, shake) for the iOS device. Some students also included audio interviews of locals or other sounds they had captured in the neighborhood during their site visit. It was up to each student to determine how to visually present his or her content about the neighborhood as an iOS app. Through this project, students not only discovered how to design the user experience and navigation within an app, they also learned a lot about collaboration and teamwork.

Different neighborhoods on the Big App.

The five featured neighborhoods : Chelsea, Harlem, El Barrio (Spanish Harlem), Chinatown and Washington Heights

Student apps on Harlem

Student apps on Harlem

Each app was unique and reflected the student’s personality. With help from the team at Lightwell, the 18 individual apps were combined into one neighborhood app and the five neighborhood apps were then linked together into one app, aptly called “the Big App.” Students enjoyed seeing their content come alive as iOS apps on iPads on the final night, Exhibition Night, for their family and friends to experience.

To learn more about Lightwell and this project, check out Lightwell’s blog post here.

Chinatown apps

Chinatown neighborhood apps

Apps on the Chelsea neighborhood.

Apps about the Chelsea neighborhood

Washington Heights apps

Washington Heights apps

Apps about El Barrio

Apps about El Barrio


  • 8th Grade
  • Middle Grades Program
  • Technology
  • Upper Division