Guest Interview With Melonie Kennedy

I’m thrilled to share with you today an interview with Melonie Kennedy. The Kennedy family publish the American Virtue Magazine. Melonie educates her two children at home and also manages the site Apps-School where you can find lists of educational apps for your gadgets.

 

Dee: Can you tell us a little about what Apps-School is and why you started it?
Melonie: Apps-School was originally founded by Terri Johnson of Knowledge Quest, Inc. to assist homeschoolers in finding the best family-friendly, educational apps on the market, and to assist app developers in marketing to this niche of educators. When Terri founded Apps-School as a marketing arena, she was also delving into the creation of educational apps herself. In the fall of 2011, Terri chose to focus on the developing side of the business and put the Apps-School business up for sale. My husband and I had just created a family business, American Virtue. Our first step was the creation of our digital publication, American Virtue Magazine, as a resource for American families from all walks of life. As a homeschooling family, we definitely see the value in bringing electronic media into the home education environment; as concerned Americans, we see the value of e-media in the public and private school sectors as well. This led us to purchase Apps-School from Knowledge Quest and bring it under the American Virtue umbrella.

 

Dee: In your opinion, what is the significance of technology in our children’s education?
Melonie: I believe that technology is incredibly significant in our children’s education. As the parent of a child who responds best to lessons through e-media, I have seen the benefits of the technology available today. One of my children learns best through viewing “teaching” shows, such as reality TV and documentaries; this child will become absorbed in the information provided in shows such as Man vs Wild and will then go to the park with friends and spend hours outdoors playing “Kids vs Wild”. If I tried to sit this child down and lecture about camping and the outdoors, or put a workbook in front of them, we’d have a very unpleasant experience. This same child is currently using an app on their iPad to very happily learn Spanish, after several years of me using other methods to try to incorporate foreign language curricula that are book and CD-based. Because of the child’s learning style, and others who learn this way, technology of various types is vital to individualized education that will empower children – and educators – with tools that best suit their needs.

 

Dee: How do you see technology effecting education in the future?
Melonie: My personal opinion is that technology will assist us greatly when it comes to individualizing a child’s education; technology allows us to cater to a person’s learning style – if applicable – and help them gain a good footing in certain subjects that might not be there if we only used traditional education methods. Not everyone is “meant for” sitting at a desk with a book and a worksheet, or sitting in a lecture hall. That is my learning style, so I thrived in that environment as a child. However, those who need more tactile experiences, or a more stimulating experience, will see better results through the variety of technology out there – whether that be television, online classroom environments, using a tablet, or the like. On the flip side, I do have a concern about schools and homeschools potentially incorporating too much technology into education. While YouTube videos and iPads can present a lot of excellent material, there are certain personalities who can become addicted to this learning method and are either unable or unwilling to attempt other learning experiences. We learned this firsthand with the child who responds best to e-media; there was an addiction issue where the only things they would talk about were games on the Nintendo DS and the only thing any spare time was spent on was the DS. This will vary for every person out there, of course, but it’s definitely something for families to watch for as people of all ages become more and more “plugged in”. We need to make sure that we, as a society, use technology as a tool – it is a GREAT tool! – but we need to seek balance between technology and outdoor time, hands-on experiences, and personal, face-to-face interaction.

 

Dee: How and where do you find these apps?
Melonie: The apps offered on Apps-School.com are submitted by their developers for listing on our website. Since we acquired Apps-School, I have seen a fairly even split between returning developers who have previously listed an app and want to spread the word about new offerings, and developers who are new to our service, who wish to start getting the word out to our primary market of home educators.

 

Dee: What ages do these apps appeal to?
Melonie: The apps listed on Apps-School.com actually cover a wide range of ages, from apps for tots and preschoolers, to high schoolers, and even organizational tools for parents!

 

Dee: Would any of these apps be helpful for children with special needs?
Melonie: Definitely! Some of the apps listed on our site are award-winning apps that have already been tested for children with special needs. Many others can be adapted for various types of learners, even if they weren’t originally created for that reason. Because of our family situation, and having close friends who have children with a variety of special needs, we are in the process of trying to find more apps to list on Apps-School that are meant specifically for children who have special needs. Each of my own children has had a different learning style and in certain cases has required adaptation due to different abilities. This is inherent with all people – none of us are exactly the same! – but recognizing that there are specific conditions that apps can assist with is important. Research has already shown that things like iPads can be very effective as communication tools for non-verbal individuals; the more we can get that information in front of folks, the better we’ll be able to serve them!

 

Dee: What are some of your favorite educational apps?
Melonie:  I think I could go on about our favorite apps all day! Since everyone in my family has a different learning style and passions for various subjects, I’m finding that we all have favorites that don’t really cross over everyone. My four-year-old was chomping at the bit to learn to read, and I was a “mean” mommy who kept trying to delay things. He chose to take matters into his own hands and pulls up flash card apps such as First Words: Deluxe, and a variety of Montessori apps, and is now on the road to reading (whether I like it or not, haha). My ten-year-old has really jumped into Spanish thanks to her MindSnacks app. The entire family, even us adults, have been thrilled with the storybook apps we’ve seen lately, such as The Adventures of Peter Pan and Henry! You’re Late AGAIN! We are all big fans of print books, but the interactive storybooks developers are coming up with is truly impressive! Lastly, I don’t think we’ve ever been disappointed in an offering from iHomeEducator – no matter which app it is.

 

Dee: What about those of us who don’t have smart phones; can we use these apps on our Macs or PCs?
Melonie: At this time we do have one listing, Shakespeare in Bits, that is available as software for Mac/PC, in addition to app versions. Other developers have mentioned this as something they are working toward, which I personally think is an excellent step.

 

Dee: What other devices can use these apps?
Melonie: Right now the bulk of our listings are iOS apps, with many universal apps within that system (meaning that they will work for iPhone/iPodTouch/iPad); others are specific to the iPad due to the size of the files and the graphics. However, since we acquired Apps-School, we have been making a specific effort to add listings of apps for the Android platform. Of all the things I am asked by Apps-School users, “what about Android?” is the VERY top question. Since we are not actually developing apps ourselves, we are able to spread out a little more. We don’t have the need to specialize in one operating system or the other – our goal is to help more folks find family-friendly, educational apps no matter what device they are using. On that note, I’ve been asked about Windows phone and BlackBerry apps, and while I definitely see the need, right now we have to take things one step at a time, based on predominance in the market. Apps-School was originally founded focusing exclusively on iOS apps, so the next thing to focus on under our ownership was Android, based on general market research and polling our readers/users. 2012 will bring more Android apps to our listings, and then we’ll take it from there. Our readers have been very patient and have offered GREAT suggestions and feedback as we polish things up and broaden our offerings.

 

Dee: What advice would you give to a parent or educator who is considering using technology in their arsenal of teaching tools?
Melonie: Dive in! I personally didn’t even have an iPod until Christmas 2010 – an iPod Touch followed Christmas 2011. Based on my circle of friends and colleagues, I was behind the times. Still am, if you listen to some folks, as I’m still quite content with my very basic cell phone that rarely gets any use due to the reception where I live! I have an “old” (2nd generation) Kindle and no smart phone. Our iPads were half a business investment, half an education investment. Turns out they are incredibly intuitive – to wit, a preschooler teaching himself to read – and while you may not feel like an expert, you’ll definitely get into the flow of things much faster than you might think! While there are many of us book lovers who will never completely give up on the feeling of turning a page, highlighting important passages, and so forth, technology really has flown in amazing directions that can be used to the benefit of you and your students. When you think about the number of books one can store on an e-reader – well, you’re looking at a personal library that a child can carry in a purse or backpack. With the advent of iBooks and TED Talks, you are looking at classrooms and lectures and libraries at your disposal – in something smaller than a lunch tray. I don’t believe that tablets and smart phones will ever be able to replace the classroom or museum or workshop experience. However, these electronic options offer you resources at the touch of a button or swipe of a finger that will totally change where the walls of a public school teacher’s classroom end. Being able to set up a chat with a sister classroom in another country is amazing! Teaching online courses – and taking them, for higher education – can expand a teacher’s horizons and his or her resume. Advances in technology, such as the offerings at HomeschoolConvention.com, mean that homeschooling parents can chat with curriculum publishers, learn about new products, and purchase resources when they are needed, without concerns about travel or a child’s illness suddenly changing plans for the weekend of a convention. Don’t be afraid to just dive in and start digging around to see what is out there; there are huge advantages in technology, and we do NOT have to give up the comforts of less “techy” items while incorporating the new offerings.

 

Dee: Is there anything that you would like to say which I haven’t addressed here?
Melonie: Thank you so much for the opportunity to share here. If your readers would like further information, they can sign up for “What’s New at Apps-School?”, our biweekly e-newsletter – visit www.Apps-School.com to do so. We are also on Facebook and Twitter – we’d love to have you stop on by!

 

And I would like to thank you, Melonie, for agreeing to visit with us today! It was definitely a pleasure!

To Skype or not to Skype?

Our 13 year old son came to us last night asking for a Skype account. He tells us that “all his friends” have one. Don’t you just LOVE that reason?? His dad and I are still considering his request. You might be wondering, so what are your objections and concerns?

 

First let me reiterate, our 13 year old son asked us for a Skype account. While I’m all for him being able to stay in touch with his friends, I want to be able to continue to monitor these conversations. I would hope that there is a way to do this with Skype.

 

My kids already chat with friends from all over the globe. ManBoy has a microphone that he uses to speak to his friends. Why would he need Skype as well?

 

I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with my son being able to see the other person as they chat via video chat. While I can see how this could be an educational experience, say if his friend were to take him for a tour of his neighborhood in London for example, I can also see where it could be too easily abused. Two teenage kids, no matter what the country they live in and how innocent they are, can all too easily get themselves into trouble.

 

While we want to be open minded to welcoming new technology into our homeschool, we also don’t want to just throw caution to the wind. Perhaps I need to chat with other parents who allow their kids to Skype and get their input. Would LOVE to hear from my readers if they have any input to give me.