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Westerville, OH 43086

Peekaboo Studios LLC is an educational app developer based in Central Ohio with a focus on creating apps aligned with Common Core State Standards for PreK-12. When time permits, we like to go back to our roots and make games too!

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RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here.

 

Empower students to learn for themselves!

Jody Mclain

Good teachers today often respond to a student question with the phrase "Google it, and you tell me the answer."

Not only are they teaching students to do their own research, but students love to be the ones with the answer - especially with an adult, it's a sense of empowerment.

Which brings me to a funny story of a Spanish teacher I had in school. Not the greatest of teachers, but at least he pointed out that we should seek to find answers for ourselves.

When somebody would ask a question in class, he'd respond (with his feet kicked up on the desk, and the baseball game on the radio):

"For one dollar, I'll tell you the answer. For fifty cents, I'll flip to the back of the book for you to find the answer..."  

Four Best Ways to Help Kids Feel Better About Reading

Ran Flasterstein

There are some kids who have a love for reading. They were given books or found them on their own at a young age and were drawn into the stories and the ideas they found. For many kids though, it’s a little harder to get them to read, but you can still help them find a love for learning!

Provide shorter stories
It’s going to be tough for a non-reader to think that they’re going to have to read even 5+ pages, let alone a full book. It’s a tough mental hurdle to see all the pages lurking ahead when all they really need to do is get started. Consider using short stories or articles.

Ask questions they don’t have to get right away
If there was a graded quiz they didn’t do well on, offer a retake. Ask if there’s anything in the story that they have questions about, or offer to explain some of the questions they didn’t answer correctly. If they didn’t fully understand what they read, point out to them what they may have missed so that they can start to better visualize what the story is describing to the reader.

Show their progress
As they begin to read, a little at a time, find a way to mark their progress in a way that is visible to them. As they see their progress, as it turns from reading one story to ten, then twenty, they’ll begin to feel the momentum.

Match their personalities
If kids are helped to find material that interests them, their journey towards choosing to read for themselves may get a needed boost. Offer different children the opportunity to read about animals, sports, technology, or whatever topic strikes them as the most interesting.

You *CAN* help kids to feel better about themselves and their reading abilities!

We’ve written original short stories, both fiction and non-fiction, on several topics of interest at each grade level. Our reading apps show students their progress with every story and allow them to retake certain tests to earn better scores. When a question is not answered correctly, the section of the text where the answer could be found is highlighted for the student to improve their understanding.

We intermixed different topics from presidents to scientists and athletes and nature and more. We’ve also released a reading app specifically for sports enthusiasts sharing the stories of Mia Hamm (soccer), Kevin Durant (basketball), Fenway Park (baseball), and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track & field) among the passages included.

Try some of our stories for free, on either iPhone or iPad: http://bit.ly/ReadingFree

Why I'm Excited about the Apple Watch

Ran Flasterstein

Watch this short clip of Steve Jobs, talking about the power of technology to amplify people's inherent abilities:

The Apple Watch is the most personal device yet. The screen doesn't even show unless you're looking at it. It can buzz in different ways letting you in on a secret no one else in the room knows. Like the iPhone before it, the Watch offers us a connection with a device uniquely ours to help us amplify what we do.

In addition to what Apple is offering with the first release, there are countless developers that are going to come up with ridiculous, hilarious, helpful, and influential apps. We can't even imagine what they'll create next, and that's one of the main selling points for me, really: it's what we *don't* know that's the most exciting.

Developers other than Apple have created ways for us to share our voice (YouTube, Twitter, Vine, etc). Developers decided we should be able to find out what song is playing when we hear it (Soundhound, Shazam) and that we should be able to access different music depending on our mood (Songza, Pandora). Different games, tools, networking, or calling an uber are things we never could have imagined that now are commonplace. So here's to the developers and what they'll be making next!

I always used to wear a watch but haven't for the past ten years. I'm excited to be an early user and a part of this journey to figuring out in what ways we can positively affect our potential right from the technology on our wrist.

What do you think?
Let me know on Twitter at @RanLearns

Keep Writing Before Anyone's Reading

Ran Flasterstein

Keep Writing Before Anyone's Reading

With this being post #8 on my site, you could say that I'm a fairly new blogger. There are a few friendly faces that typically read what I post, but I don't have what you'd call a dedicated "following" of readers. Unless I tweet about a new post at just the right time when an interested somebody sees and clicks the link, I could very well be writing to nobody. My posts could go unread.

But I'm going to keep on writing. Similar to how I started making apps...

Everybody has an idea for an app. What differentiates founders/entrepreneurs of new app companies is bringing that idea to reality and releasing it on the App Store. That's impressive and no small amount of work! But unless you have a very special mix of luck and magic, one app is just not enough. Too often, upon launching and not getting many downloads of their first app, people will abandon the idea of app development and move on to something else.

A designer I once worked with in the game industry said that "if you want to make a good game, you need to make 100 games." With each effort of making a game, your skills improve, your critical judgement sharpens, and you get important feedback from peers, playtesting, and user reviews. You will inevitably get better through a mix of experimentation, failure, reflection, and learning. You’re building experience.

Our first app launched at the end of June in 2010. We were pretty excited to have 106 sales in the first 4 days. That excitement slowed down with 9 sales on day five… and then we averaged less than 2 sales a day for the next 3 months. This wasn't going to cover our bills, pay for our daughter's dance classes, or anything of the sort. But our goal was always to build a portfolio of apps, not to make just one. With 63 unique apps now available for iOS, plus free versions and Google/Nook/Kindle versions, we're still working towards 100 apps. We’ve improved our quality and we’ve increased our audience with each new title. Our apps have been downloaded over 2 million times!

So I will keep on writing, even before anyone is reading along, because I might have to write and rewrite 100 posts on this journey before I scribble down a truly good piece that hits home with my future readers.

RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here.

7 iPad Apps Every 3rd Grader Should Be Using

Ran Flasterstein

The latest apps to help your student get ahead! 


1) 3rd Grade Vocabulary Prep

Practice and learn hundreds of vocabulary words. Listen to audio pronunciations for each word, its definition, and a sample sentence!


2) 3rd Grade Fiction & Non-Fiction Reading Comprehension 

Practice reading skills with 20 original stories written specifically for this app. Choose from fiction and non-fiction passages and track your best scores.


3) 3rd Grade Math Testing Prep 

Prepare for the state test with hundreds of math questions covering every 3rd grade topic. Practice with a quiz, then take the test to see how well you've learned.


4) 3rd Grade Non-Fiction Reading ComprehensionPractice reading comprehension with science and history topics such as Henry Ford, Ronald Reagan, Ancient Rome, Rainforests, Saturn, Clouds, Turtles, and more!


5) MathEdge HD: Multiplication
"This app shows students step by step how to solve standard math problems. It's like having a tutor sit with them and explain the process."



6) Best Books for Tweens - FREE
Whether you're reading for school or for pleasure, you can use this app to find new books and build a custom reading list!


7) The DumDumb Exam - FREE
Are you a dumdumb? Test your smarts with over 300 tricky challenges and questions about flags of the world, spelling, sports knowledge, mythology, dog breeds, and lots more! 

RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here.

More About Standing Up to Naysayers

Ran Flasterstein

More About Standing Up to Naysayers

My last post was about our good friend Cindy Crowe and how she stood up for education in the face of some very vocal naysayers.

George Couros (@gcouros) had a post called "Where’s the evidence?" 
As in the question that often comes up surrounding a new idea in education… "Where’s the evidence that this will work?" His response more or less: Where’s the evidence that it won’t work?  - OR -  Where’s the evidence that what we do now even works?

He touched on the subject again more recently regarding people who ask "But what if…" questions as a way to suggest that your idea might not work. He wonders whether those people would be convinced when you answered their "what ifs" or if they’re just looking to be oppositional without any interest in helping the cause.

I say if you have a fresh idea, or a solution to a problem that could work, bring it forward no matter what others might say!

Any change to the status quo that your team of educators is passionate about at your school is worth trying. For students to see that passion alone is worthwhile. They’ll be first hand witnesses to your commitment and hard work toward unique ways of approaching the school day. If the new idea doesn’t work, there’s a lot of value in learning from failure, but more likely it’s not going to fail if the staff is excited about it. More likely it will just need to be tweaked, adjustments will have to be made, for an even better program in the long term.

So plan and prepare ahead of time, obviously. Bring in any interested colleagues on a new idea, and perhaps even some students while you’re still dreaming and brainstorming. But when you’ve set your heart on which endeavor to pursue and your excitement for "what could be" is overflowing - don’t stop along the way for the naysayers - go right ahead and make it happen!

RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here.

Cindy Crowe: Standing Up Against Negativity

Ran Flasterstein

This summer, we lost a dear friend and an incredibly passionate member of our community. Cindy Crowe was a wonderful person extremely generous with her time, her attention, and any help she could provide. She served on the Westerville City School’s Board of Education for over 14 years, right up until she passed away at age 50 after a year-long battle with ALS.  She was a loud advocate for any program or initiative that could have a positive impact on students of this district.

Out of over 600 school districts in the state, Westerville is impressively the 12th largest district in Ohio. There is a lot of diversity, high rates of ESL and free & reduced lunch families, and we have heralded special education programs. Managing such a large district can be unwieldy. It’s certainly expensive. And it’s definitely important to get things right.

For the past few years, there has been a very vocal anti-tax group here in Westerville that fought against school levies, teacher raises, new hires, and even attempted to repeal a successfully voted-in levy. Our School Board Members were attacked repeatedly for "not listening" to "cost saving plans" from this group.

When I think of Cindy, this video of a board meeting from before I was ever involved with the district always comes to mind.

Says Cindy - "The plan that we keep hearing about… is not a plan. We’ve looked at it. We reviewed the requests that were made."

The group’s cost saving ideas that she fights against in this clip:
 - A 15% decrease in salary for ALL school district employees
 - A health insurance plan which actually would have been *more* expensive because of our teachers’ average years of experience

She says bluntly, "that solution isn’t going to work."

Watch this YouTube Clip

Does this video highlight the beautiful, pleasant, fun, charming person that Cindy is? No.
Did everybody agree with everything she had to say while she was on the board?  No.
But more valuable than trying to please everybody - since we know that’s nearly impossible - is working to accomplish what feels right, especially for the greater good, and being strong enough to stand up for those principles when they are questioned and threatened.

Unfortunately, the loudest voice typically triumphs. Negative noise has made would-be dreamers pipe down, back down, and abandon their initiatives.

Does this video highlight the strength and resolve that Cindy displayed? Yes.
She makes it clear that she will not be strong-armed into backing down. We could use more people that will not only strive to make a difference, but also push back against the negative voices. We could use more people like Cindy.

Final Note and Link:
"I surrounded myself with people who are givers and not takers. We should be givers in this world. It just seems right." - Our good friend Cindy Crowe

Interested in helping Cindy’s organization for ALS research?

My ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video. 

RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here

 

Not Stressing Out

Ran Flasterstein

I am a positive, optimistic, very hopeful kind of guy, I always have been. But as I've grown into my life - having an amazing family, starting our own business, buying a home - there are definitely no shortage of stresses in day-to-day life. One of our kids could hit a rough patch with a certain class in school or with their current group of friends. We could hit a deer driving home late at night and have to deal with deductibles, body shops, rental cars, and insurance agents. Somebody could get sick, there may be suddenly necessary house repairs, all of these things happen, believe me, they just did.

I'm also somebody who is extremely dedicated to work. I want our products to be better. I want our customers to be happier. I want more people to interact with what we're creating. It's not the typical negative stress, but even opportunities can be stressful - thinking about EVERYTHING that you *could* do but knowing there's only enough time in the day to pick a few.

This weekend, we went to the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio - the largest indoor water park in the US - for our daughter's dance competition. In between watching her compete beautifully on the dance floor, spending time with the family at the water park, and laying out in the sun, something happened - and not just the bad tan line.

At one point, I opened my eyes after a bit of time relaxing by the pool, and realized that I hadn't been stressing out in over 24 hours. I hadn’t even thought to stress about anything. It was a strange feeling. In that instant, I realized that all the stressors were still there, none of our problems had vanished, but without them on my mind I was instead enjoying each moment. I was enjoying my family. I was enjoying the weather. I was enjoying a break from constantly thinking about what more we could do for our business, and dealing with the random curveballs that life always sends our way.

It was nice. It was refreshing.

I'm not saying we should simply ignore our problems and not address them, we know that's not a winning strategy. I'm just hoping that the next time I reach a boiling point dealing with it all, I can think back to these 24 hours I was able to relax, or even just to those 10 minutes before my epiphany in the sun.

I feel recharged to get back at it!

Final Notes and Links:
Our 2-day/1-night stay at Kalahari was a perfect little getaway. More typically my breaks are much shorter - 10-15 minutes when I remember to take the time.

We have our own Hoover Dam in Westerville, which forms the Hoover Reservoir, and when I'm driving by there I love to stop, sit, look out over the water and enjoy the sounds of it all for just a few moments.

Even more often than that, I'll go just right outside where I'm at and take a couple of minutes to enjoy a pretty day before I head back inside and get to work. 

RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here.

Image credit: "Poolside" by DieLaughing licensed under CC BY 2.0

Major Technology Shifts

Ran Flasterstein

Technology Isn’t The Only Thing Changing - We Are Too!

It used to be that you talked to your friends on the phone. You might have even had to talk to their mom or dad first, whoever answered the phone when you called, and ask to talk to your friend.

Communication among students today is not one person talking to another on the phone anymore. They don’t typically talk to a single friend for an hour uninterrupted. They are almost constantly available, the majority of kids having their own phone. Communication today is more like everyone talking to one another every minute of every day.

Through text, kik, snapchat, ask, twitter, instagram, and so many others - you are now in contact at all times. You can talk to several people individually, form a group message, or speak in an open forum visible to everyone around the world. You can talk to people you know from school or people hundreds of miles away in other countries and on other continents. Even if you're not engaged in a conversation, someone could mention you at any point in time and you'll get a notification.

It's not just the phone that was reinvented, we changed too! The way we communicate has completely been transformed and continues to evolve regularly.

In what other ways is the advancement in technology making huge shifts like this?

In our education business, the App Store has been a total game changer. If we taught through video, we wouldn't be able to respond to the student and whether they understand the material or not. If we taught in person, we wouldn't be able to reach people from all around the world. If we sold games at retail, we wouldn't have a way to provide our free offerings. By teaching through apps, a whole world of possibilities exists for us to offer instruction and extra help to students where and when they need it.

Our MathEdge series is making a real difference for kids. Over 200,000 have used these apps as a tool to improve on their math - you can read their words below. Before the major shift to apps, we wouldn't have been able to use our personal love of math to help so many young learners when they don't understand certain concepts. In MathEdge we were able to create a system that teaches through a guided step-by-step experience while also being patient with each student, allowing them to keep trying when they make a mistake, and giving them encouragement until they develop a strong understanding of each operation!

In their words (we chose our favorites):

 - Thank you for this awesome app. Because I was struggling on math then I saw the math app and it was for free I practiced every day now I am getting better at math thanks!!!!!!!

 - Thank you very much since 4th grade I didn't know division but since you came I'm a math wiz at division so now your my hero

 - I told my 4th grade teacher about this game, and she said it is just fine to play this really cool game to practice for math. Thank you sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much!!!!  :-)

 - I am now the smartest person in my class thanks for everyone that made this app.  Yay!     

 - Thank you this helped me so much. I am so VERY glad this app exists

 - I was having a hard time until I found your app thank you

 - your game inspires me so much

 - Thanks so much this app has helped me a lot and I hope your business is very well: Yours truly a student

 - I love this app it is fun to me and I am getting better at it and my teacher is happy because I know mostly all of it and my teacher is smiling at me every time I get it right.

Please try our MathEdge apps and feel free to write to us with any suggestions or other feedback you have! If you are a teacher and would like a free promo code to try the full version with your students, please email us here.

iPad full versions:

MathEdge HD: Addition & Subtraction - http://bit.ly/MathAddSubtract

MathEdge HD: Multiplication - http://bit.ly/MathMultiplication

MathEdge HD: Division - http://bit.ly/MathDivisionApp

 

iPad free versions:

MathEdge HD: Addition - http://bit.ly/MathAddition

MathEdge HD: Multiplication - http://bit.ly/MathMultiplyFree

MathEdge HD: Division - http://bit.ly/MathDivisionFree

 

iPhone full versions:

MathEdge: Addition & Subtraction - http://bit.ly/iPhoneAddSubtract

MathEdge: Multiplication - http://bit.ly/iPhoneMultiply

MathEdge: Division - http://bit.ly/iPhoneDivision

 

RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here.

Image credit: "Matthew working the phone" by Matthew Rutledge licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Always Learning - My Career Day Speech

Ran Flasterstein

Always Learning - My Career Day Speech 

 

For the past few years, I've been participating in Career Day at one of our local middle schools. I get to put together a presentation and talk to the students about my background, how I became an app developer, our apps, and what my day to day job is like today. But beyond talking about our business, I tell every class of students the same thing:

 

-----

When I was in middle school, there was no iPhone, and there were no apps… 

Even when I was in college, there was no iPhone and no apps.

So everything I'm doing today, I learned after I finished college.

 

You don't get a high school degree, or a college degree, and hold it up over your head and say "I'm done learning! I'm educated!"

The world is changing so fast - there's no end to learning. I know that in 5 years, or maybe 10 years from now, we won't even be using apps anymore. We'll be using Zubers. Or whatever the new thing is going to be called. And I'm going to have to learn again how to make that.

-----

 

It's really not fair to call the students "students" without calling the teachers "students" too. We should ALL be constantly learning from each other, brainstorming, questioning, and growing as life long students.

 

There are a lot of amazing resources that we should make available to our kids, global networking that we should allow in our classrooms, and technology tools that we should teach, but most importantly - we need to model the attitude of a life long learner:

 - A willingness to try new things

 - Personal goal setting both big and small

 - Not giving up, not discouraged by missteps or failure

 - Understanding importance of accepting feedback from friends and critics

 - A dedication to achieving success through focus, discipline, and plenty of hard work

 

I think the kids really respect having role models to teach them a different kind of mentality and not just curriculum. After Career Day, the students wrote thank you letters to the speakers they saw. These are three of my favorites:

 

Student 1 - "When I first thought of computer programming, I thought that all programmers were nerds with ties and pocket protectors, but then I met you. You were the perfect example of what I want to be."

Student 2 - "I learned that app makers don't have it easy and just come up with a perfect app in 10 seconds. It takes lots of time and experience to create a good one, and even after that, there are updates."

Student 3 - "I learned that even though you graduate from school, you can still keep learning things."

 

Final Note and Links:

I taught myself to program through the free Stanford development course in iTunes U, with the help of tutorials from the great @rwenderlich, the dedicated user base of stackoverflow.com, and a LOT of practice with trial and error. I learned about the market from the blogs of more established developers like @MattRix@jerols, and @GavinBowman. I also received support and feedback from many educators on twitter and from emails sent to us by our users.

 

If you want to learn to program, to change the oil on a car, or to play guitar… there are resources to start learning almost everything online today. And if you start pursuing a passion, your support system is out there waiting to find out about your efforts and goals and to cheer you on along the way. Keep learning everybody!

 

RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here.

One Day With Great Teachers

Ran Flasterstein

A new school year is underway throughout the country. I'm thinking of the many incredibly caring teachers, coaches, and staff members in every school district. This year, as always, I am optimistically hoping for an influx of outstanding adults to be a part of my kids' daily lives for the next 10 months. We haven't always been so lucky in past years, but this post is to highlight some of the best that we have personally experienced.

I believe that there is inherent good and incredible potential in every student. The influence that our schools can have on a child's life is astronomical. Based on entirely true stories, here is my depiction of what going to school could do for a student on any given day. This is one day that I wish on every single kid, no matter their zip code or what their family situation is like.


The Day Begins

Our student gets on the bus with a driver like one I know and love named Bob. Bob is 70 years old and a tremendous athlete and he learns the name of every student on his bus every year. He greets each kid by their name when he says "good morning," and by name again when he tells them to "have a good day." "Why don't you come up here and sit with me?" he'll say to a student that he can see in his large mirror might need a little more attention that day.

Once at school, our student heads to class with Carol (who is also real, they're all real) whose smile and her admission that she shares his love for cinnamon toast crunch earns her not only an occasional gift of the beloved cinnamon toast crunch throughout the year but also his attention when she delves into her lessons.

In Brittney's class she sits him up front because she's noticed he's easily distracted. She's nice, funny, and she lets the kids do as much talking as listening during labs. When his attention does wander during class, she simply taps on his desk with a smile to get him back on track.

His math teachers, Tyler and Dave, make music videos with their students to teach algebra concepts. When they ask who would be willing to come in on a Saturday to film a new video, our student and his classmates are excited to add math into their weekend.

During a free period he goes to see his guidance counselor Melissa. She's sweet, asks how he's doing, and sees if there are any classes he's having trouble with. She gives him a quiet space to work on homework or projects, will get extra copies of his assignments if needed, and reaches out to the parents so if there's a specific class they're worried about she can make sure to keep an eye out for them.

After school, Coach Mitch pushes him to work harder than he thought he ever could, building his confidence, making it fun to exercise with intensity, and building the inner community of a team working together and cheering one another on to accomplish individual and team goals.

Or during track, Coach Jody is telling him she knows he can keep getting better, to keep working at it. "That was awesome! Now try it again!" She never turns away the kids on the team if they're opening up to her and allowing her in. She's always available for him to come talk to her about track, what's on his mind, what's bothering him, or just lighthearted chatter to keep practice fun.

This student could be anywhere from 7 to 17. Instead of athletics, he could be in Lego Club, or involved with photography for the yearbook. She could be getting extra tutoring or ESL help or she could be taking all advanced classes. No matter the student, they're all waiting to be recognized as strong and talented individuals. They want to believe they are capable of great success and making a positive impact, but someone else will have to believe in them first…

 

Listening. Acknowledging. It Makes a Difference.

More than any assignment, field trip, test, or project - it's the adults in their life that most influence our students, for better or worse. Being heard and recognized for their thoughts and feelings goes a LONG way with a young person. There was a group of high school students on an episode of ABC's Shark Tank that pitched their invention and were able to get a deal from billionaire Mark Cuban for $100,000... and they weren't focused just on his fame or their new riches afterward. The first thing they said coming out of the tank was: "They actually treated us like adults and listened to our ideas."

I don't buy into the argument that students need a top-notch preschool or kindergarten education and without it they are set up for failure. Of course early education is incredibly important, but give a struggling middle school student a positive adult that really listens and believes in them and they will begin to flourish. On the flip side - for every supportive teacher that nurtures our students, if we add a teacher or coach that thinks the kid should keep their ideas to themselves and just follow directions as they're told, we're taking a step back.

Students that have LOTS of passionate and caring adult influences in their day, the kind of people who truly believe in them and will help them every step of the way, these students WILL be more successful. They WILL start achieving their potential. They might not master every math concept or turn out to be the greatest of readers, but with the motivation that comes from feeling supported, they will be amazing in a unique way of their own.

 

Final Note and Link:

There are many thoughtful and dedicated teachers and coaches out there. I follow a few on twitter and am inspired by what they are trying in their classrooms to create more engaged and empowered students. Here's a recent post from one very impressive educator about the relationship a teacher can establish with their students: Smile. Be genuine. Be fair. Be the light.


RanLearns are insights from Co-Founder Ran Flasterstein about 21st Century Education. Follow him on Twitter @RanLearns or contact him here.