Guest Blog Post by Peter Easdown from PKCLsoft App Company
Grab a coffee and sit down to read about our Guest Blogger of the Month, Peter Easdown! This month Peter – an app developer from Australia – will be sharing with us his insights on app development; how schools should be involved and his ideas on creativity. Peter’s company, called PKCLsoft has created 16 apps, here are some of them: Tap Times Tables, Math Plus Minus, Classroom Math Drills, Money Up, Spelling Balloons and Sight Words Balloons. He currently does app development as a hobby. Thank you Peter for sharing with us your love of coding and app development.
Thank you Peter, for sharing with us your insights and thoughts today!
Before we jump in, feel free to grab a FREE promo code for his
Classroom Math Drills App!
Name: Peter Easdown
Currently residing in: Melbourne, Australia
App Company Name: PKCLsoft
Connect with him on the following Social Media outlets
Blog Posts or Articles we can read
Where do you live?
Why, the most livable city in the world, Melbourne Australia! I’ve spent time in Vancouver (#3) in the past, and loved my time there, however Melbourne is most certainly home.
Tell me a little bit about your family?
We are a family of four, with two teenagers (one finishing school this year). We enjoy a good movie, and talk daily about what is going on at school and the world, both here in Australia and abroad.
What is your educational background?
I finished school way back in 1984 and went on to study business computing in a country college. When I look back at it, it was a strange course to do because I’ve always been very technically minded. Every job I’ve held in computing has been very technical, so a lot of that ‘business’ knowledge hasn’t been applied to my programming, however it has been indispensable as an indie app developer.
How did you get into the app business?
Well, I’ve always developed apps, for as long as I can remember. Back when I was in year 7 I was trying write my own Space Invaders for the schools Apple II (we had just one at my school). Over my school life I kept trying to improve it but lacked some of the fundamental skills to get it working.
Like your typical geek of the day I kept doing this in my spare time even once I started working. I built a number of games and applications for the Apple IIGS computer, the highlight being a Modula-2 Compiler called ORCA/Modula-2 in 1994.
I took a break then to have a family and see the world from a different perspective. By the time my oldest daughter started high-school (middle school for people in Canada/US) I had returned to developing apps as a hobby.
Why did you decide to create educational apps?
When the parents of my oldest daughter’s year 7 group were asked to attend an information evening I discovered that a lot of kids coming to the school were coming from primary (elementary) schools that hadn’t taught them their time-tables, putting the kids at a distinct disadvantage as they started to learn more advanced mathematical concepts in high school.
I saw this as something I might be able to help with, and I saw the iPad as a brilliant tool that could be used to engage younger kids, and help them practice simple concepts that schools don’t necessarily teach these days.
As a parent I’ve found it worrying that the educational systems are not laying some of (what I found to be) the foundational skills needed to make it easier to develop more complex skills. Times-tables are a cornerstone to math skills to my way of thinking. If you don’t know them by memory then a lot of the math that follows is that much harder.
After my first educational app, Tap Times Tables was released I discovered an entire world of students, teachers and parents that not only wanted my app, but others.
It means a lot to me to know that what I create, is helpful, and fun. All of my apps are tested by my kids, and they evolve when I get feedback from them, and from people that email me, or make comments in reviews on the store.
To this end, I’ve created several apps at the specific request of teachers that work in the special needs education field. Money Up! and Spelling Balloons were both created this way, and have been designed to support students of all ages, and abilities.
If I was a student wanting to go into building apps, what advice would you have for me?
First off, I would caution the student by saying that if they want to create apps because think they are going to get rich, they are probably wrong.
Developing apps, or computer programs can be a lot of fun. It can be challenging at times, like when you don’t know how to do something tricky, but it can also be really rewarding when you solve the puzzle and see your program do something truly magnificent on the screen.
No matter whether you are using a Mac, or a PC, whether you are programming for iOS, Android, or even a robot, there are some truly wonderful tools out there nowadays (I wish they’d been there when I was in year 7…)
Try, in the early days to learn in a way that works for you. Some people are visual, some are happy to write code the “old way”. I’m one of the latter, but for the visual people, tools like Scratch, and Alice are wonderful. My youngest daughter, when she was 8, wrote an entire story using Storytelling Alice and was programming without realising it at the time.
Apple have just released Swift Playgrounds which runs on iPad, and it definitely worthy of consideration.
Start small, come up with a simple idea. Build your confidence by setting goals and achieving them. Aiming too high too early might just leave you frustrated.
What has been the most beneficial part of your job?
Knowing that people enjoy using my apps and that they get something from them. Knowing that in some small way, what I do makes a difference.
What frustrating parts are there in your job?
Sometimes, developing the app is the easy part, the fun part. Once it’s built, making the app visible in the store and actually selling it is very hard. When you are an indie developer, you have to do all the business stuff too, and that can be frustrating. We all have different abilities. I am a good programmer, but I’m not necessarily a good businessman.
Getting my apps in front of teachers and parents is challenging. The App Store is wonderful in that it is available to so many people; it’s just very difficult to make an app stand out. People who buy educational apps tend not to go back and review or rate an app. This makes it harder for an app to be seen by others. Did you know that for a given version of an app, you need a minimum of 5 reviews in any given country before the App Store will show them? When you look at 5 competing apps in the store, you’re less likely to purchase the one without any reviews, but sometimes apps do have them; they’re just hidden. It becomes a catch-22 situation and it’s frustrating.
Do you think children should know coding?
Well, this is tricky. I think these days, kids need to have more skills with computers (whether they are PC’s, Mac, tablets, phones, etc) than when I was in school. But that doesn’t mean that all kids need to know how to code, or to program a computer.
If you’re interested in programming or coding, no matter who you are, then having access to subjects at school is, in my opinion, essential. For kids that aren’t interested, then maybe it’s not so important. We all experience apps that have bugs. Writing a bug-free app takes some skill, and if you don’t enjoy coding, then making them work, bug-free will be that much more challenging.
I think coding or programming should be mandatory in the early years as a semester long subject. Kids need a chance to try it, to find out whether they like it or not. After that kids should be given opportunities to elect to learn it, just like any other subject.
When I was in year 7 I learnt both History and Geography. In year 8 I chose which path I wanted to follow. I think programming/coding should be like this.
Another aspect of this is the need for girls to feel safe to choose to study coding if they want to. If we don’t make it mandatory at first, then some girls are going to choose not to try due to peer-pressure. If girls have to take coding as a primer subject then they are given a chance to like it without the peer-pressure.
Do you think the school system should be teaching game and application design?
Yes. My own girls school unfortunately didn’t teach this well; kids tended to do what I call “fluffy bunny” projects, and didn’t really learn real coding skills. The result was that only the “geeks” among the students did something with the subject. Kids that were not truly interested, or were borderline, lost interest without a project that they feel passionate about.
One terrific example of a school that tackles this is the Online College of Coding in Gympie, Australia where students are taught real skills, not just in coding, but in the design of apps too.
Coding is only a part of the process of making an app. For me, making an app entails at least the following:
– Designing screens, layouts, user interfaces
– Creating button images
– Creating sound effects
– Creating an app icon
– Writing help documentation
– Writing advertising documents
– Contacting review sites
What is your philosophy on technology in the classroom?
I think it’s great! We all learn different ways. Technology provides an opportunity to provide each student with tools to learn in their own way. Some apps will suit some students better than others.
I’ve been working with computers for a long time now. Watching my own two children benefit from access to an iPad at school has opened my eyes to the richness of the “app” environment in education. Both kids have used their iPads almost exclusively for all of their subjects, creating projects of all kinds, collaborating with other students, researching, and in many ways, just enjoying the learning process. There is so much scope; the possibilities are endless.
Without this technology, they could indeed be creative, however I believe that the iPad has broken down barriers for them, making it easier for them to achieve a level of self-confidence that I think would otherwise have been harder.
That all said, it is not all roses. Certainly, technology, like anything else can be abused, however I think that comes down to teaching the kids responsibility, and encouraging them to develop maturity. I also think that schools need to have an active technology officer to manage what can be done on the school network so that kids are not exposed to unsafe websites where possible/practicable.
What do you see happening with apps in the future?
This is really hard to answer. The future of apps is constrained only by the imagination of the people creating them, and their ability to bring that imagination to the screen.
The apps we have now are being produced by developers that never had access to them.
I suspect that as the students that have grown up using apps develop into the developers of the future, the apps that those student/developers create will bring with them that extra experience that developers like me never enjoyed.
I like that; I like the idea that the future is for our kids to build. I hope that they can take some of the wonder of what my generation have created, and run with it.
How do you network and work with other app companies around the world?
Whilst I’m not a fan of Facebook, I do find it essential to being in contact with other developers. There are a number of communities, or groups of developers, and the one I am most involved with is the Know What’s Inside community. This started out as Moms With Apps, where the original “App Friday” movement began (as far as I know), but has evolved with some help, and it is now a strong community of developers from around the world whose focus is on educational and family friendly apps.
We share our experiences as developers, and help each other out. Developing apps is often a world where we are trying to keep up with the tools with which we develop because they are changing all the time. By sharing our experiences we all stand a chance to survive another day.
What does a normal day look like for you, in your profession?
My app development is done outside my normal, 9 to 5 job. I, like many people these days, have a roughly 1 hour commute to and from work. I tend to use that commute to work on my apps, and then I spend a few hours most nights after the rest of my family has retired for the night.
I don’t think I’m typical, so I wouldn’t want kids to think that this is what all developers do. A lot of developers are content to do their 9 to 5 job and then relax. For me, unless I am really struggling with a difficult problem, coding, and making apps is relaxing.
Where you live, do you see a promotion of technology in schools? Why or why not?
Definitely, though it does vary from school to school. I think teachers, and schools in general are still playing catch-up to some extent. Some schools are still running very old hardware, and have staff that haven’t really kept up. Kids at those schools miss out I think.
Other schools that perhaps have a teacher or teachers that are a little more up to date, or have a personal interest in computers tend to benefit because there is an effort to try new things, to provide kids with new opportunities.
My own kids school started introducing iPad to grades 5 and 6 several years ago. Now, I believe this has been extended down to grades 2 and 3. The high school (years 7 to 12) all use iPad or similar (I think they’ve gone BYOD more recently).
Some of the projects produced by the students are amazing, whether it be a Keynote presentation, an original musical piece in GarageBand, or artwork in apps such as Artstudio.
What apps have you created?
At this time, I have 16 apps in the App Store. Of these, 11 are educational in nature. Below are my 6 favourite apps; the apps that I think are my best work, and that are the best value for education, be it at school, or at home.
Tap Times Tables Math Plus Minus
Classroom Math Drills