How High School Students Are Solving The World’s Problems

This month I was invited to be a judge for the Congressional App Challenge. The App Challenge is a coding competition for high school students put in place to help support STEM education. Our district (the 18th Congressional District) received ten entries to be evaluated on parameters such as creativity, innovation, technical expertise and app design.

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What I thought would be a simple review of app demos turned into an inspiring connection with today’s talented youth. As a parent myself, I sometimes worry about what high school will be like for my own children. The App Challenge eased some of those concerns by introducing me to students who are thriving and succeeding at real world problem solving.

Let’s read, for example, the topics they addressed:

Food waste

Equal access for college preparatory testing

Safe and undistracted driving

Political education through interactive competition

Food nutrition

Tools for helping after a car accident

Community service

Volunteer work

Teacher/student communication

Student empowerment

Feel free to read the list again to become even more inspired. All ten entries focused squarely on important issues and social betterment. These apps are designed to help make us safer, healthier, better educated, and more socially conscious. After watching the presentations and reading details about how the apps were constructed, I began to envision the entrants not just as students but as teams of skilled entrepreneurs.

The high school app makers demonstrated a range of technical expertise by coding in a variety of languages including Apple’s Swift 2.0. They also exhibited marketing savvy with cool app names and well designed app icons (which make a big difference in how professional the app looks in app stores). Innovations in app design came through with sleek user interfaces, database integration, and the use of application programming interfaces to perform specific functions.

A public reception to announce the winner will be held on Monday February 22nd at Palo Alto City Hall. The entries can be viewed here https://www.challenge.gov/challenge/congressional-app-challenge-ca-18-rep-eshoo/, and the winning app will be displayed in our nation’s Capital Building for a year.

Although the nature of competition is to measure one idea against another, I consider this entire group of submissions as winners because of their positive influence on others. May they all be successful in future app endeavors!

With encouragement,

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Five Cell-Free Zones To Keep Family Life Centered

I’ve been happy with the balance we’ve found so far with kids, technology and family life. In analyzing our family’s habits, I noticed five daily routines that keep conversations flowing and cell phones in their place. Do you notice similar habits? Let’s drill down:

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School pick ups

I like having my phone off or in my purse during school pick ups. When I’m focused solely on the kids after their long day at school, it’s easy for me to pick up on important details like mood and energy level. After school can be a critical time of day for my kids. How we wind down from the afternoon determines how well we boot up for the evening’s responsibilities.

Sporting events

I like watching my kids play, dance and sing — whatever they happen to be immersed in throughout the seasons. If they see me watching, I simply want them to see a parent who is fully engaged. If I use the phone to snap a photo or answer a text, I try to make sure any digital interaction is quick and not immersive, keeping my attention on the game and players. The details I soak up from watching are helpful for family conversation starters about who played what, and how the event progressed.

Short car rides

Local car rides to school or errands around town are opportunities to ask about life’s little details. How is the school project going? What are you planning to wear to the next school dance? What shall we do this weekend? If my kids are studying their phones instead of chilling out, they would have no time or interest in a conversation. Conversations can be key to keeping relationships on track. The more, the better — and short car rides can be an awesome medium to keep them rolling.

Meals

This is old news because everywhere we turn we’re being told to have family dinner with no devices in sight. But the sentiment is overplayed for a reason. Shared meals are precious. With everyone in the family at the same table, common ground and lively conversations can overcome age divisions. Rings, dings, chimes are vibrations are interruptions that are best put aside until later.

Bedtime

Have you ever studied which nights you get the best sleep? Are they the nights you’ve burned the midnight oil in front of a screen? Or are they the nights you’ve gotten into PJs early with a book or a magazine to doze off peacefully? I’ll make a bet which situation works best for the ultimate zzzzzs.

That’s five? Oh boy. I have one more. Here is a bonus…

Bonus: Playdates with friends!

When friends get together, magic sometimes happens. Over the years we’ve hosted playdates involving all kinds of activities like dress-up, water balloons, and treasure hunts. These activities might have been overshadowed if phones got in the way. Sometimes I notice (even if a phone is just being used to play music) that it’s way too easy for a kid to take it and get consumed by something else. Playing together without distractions keeps everyone connected to each other and on the same page.

What side-benefits have you noticed from keeping cell phones out of the mainstream path? I’d love to hear your strategies, and add them to the list.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

The Sweetest Little Apps For Valentine’s Day

It’s still a cozy time of year, a season that’s perfect for sweet storybooks and paper heart crafts. For years I’ve known app makers who capture the spirit of family time, and I’ve listed some of their apps for Valentine’s Day below. Whether you have a paper copy of the books, or just want to reread them on your device, I hope this list gives you plenty of activity ideas for the cold winter months. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Apps for Valentine's Day
Biscuit’s Valentine’s Day (storybook)
Apps for Valentine's Day
Draw With Hearts (open-ended drawing with heart themes) *KWI Member
Apps for Valentine's Day
A Little Book About Feelings (social and emotional learning)*KWI Member
Apps for Valentine's Day
Valentine’s Coloring Book (coloring) *KWI Member
Apps for Valentine's Day
Happy Valentine’s Day, Little Critter! (storybook)
Apps for Valentine's Day
PostMarked (Craft Your Own Love Note)
gifoodles! (make your own animated GIFs – updated for Valentine’s Day, see example below) *KWI Member

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More apps are being released as Valentine’s Day approaches. Please check back if you’d like to add another to your list. Apps with *KWI Member belong to the Know What’s Inside community. 

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

How Tech Startups Use Instagram to Showcase Products

Have you noticed more brands appearing on your Instagram feed? I have, and I’m impressed by their ability to showcase uniquely branded content on a platform dominated by personal expression. When I first thought of Instagram as a marketing tool for app companies, I was tripped up by the inherent limitations of tech products. For example, just how many times can you post a screenshot of an app and make it interesting?

But what I’ve seen from tech startups has been delightful, providing an interesting example of how to creatively express tech’s personal side. Here are three techniques that stand out in my Instagram feed as cool ways to present a technical brand:

Show People Having Fun

Both Sago Sago and Duckie Deck (two app companies) post fun and playful images in their Instagram feeds. Sometimes they show real-life products that compliment their apps, or highlight how young ones use apps in a workshop or beta testing environment.

Share The Startup Journey

Cowly Owl, an independent app company from the United Kingdom, shares a fascinating story through special events. Artistic shots of app demo sessions during international conferences, to scenes of awards banquets where the app is recognized, bring followers along for memorable moments inside the life of an app startup.

Use Quotes or Real Life Anecdotes to Differentiate the Brand

Have you heard of The Skimm? It’s a daily email newsletter with down to earth soundbytes of current events. How do you make a text newsletter worth following on Instagram? Somehow they’ve figured this out. Their feed is interspersed with quotations, images of readers skimming in unique locations, insider shots of office life, and humorous twists on word games (like mad libs).

When thinking about marketing plans, let’s not automatically rule out Instagram just because a product doesn’t feel creative enough. The creativity, comes from us.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Writing on Medium: A Bloggers’ Guide

If you regularly read articles on the internet, chances are you’ve come across a post published on Medium. I view Medium as a long form adaptation of social media for people with a lot to say. The question is, will Medium replace traditional blogs, or will it enable bloggers to embrace another form of publishing and syndication? I’d like to think it strengthens traditional blogs by providing new outlets for content.

What is Medium?

Medium is a writing platform with streamlined editing tools (headers, images and text) combined with integrated social linkages for liking articles and following their authors. Whether viewed from the desktop or mobile app, Medium is a clean interface without advertisements cluttering the sidebars. Traditional blogs can be overwhelmed with advertisements, and Medium provides a refreshing view where white space is welcome.

What I Like

Social integration

Medium comes pre-loaded with Twitter and Facebook integration so you don’t have to start a social profile from scratch. Connections on Twitter who are also on Medium become part of your network with a simple toggle in settings. If it took years to build up a Twitter following, no need to restart those efforts since the followers come along with you, if you wish.

Personal accounts + branded publications

Medium can accommodate personal accounts and branded accounts in a really slick way. I set up Medium under my own name. However, I was wondering what to do about a branded account for my blog. I discovered that the best place for my blog’s brand would not be a separately managed account (requiring separate email and login), but as a new “publication” created from my account. Publications are Medium pages with their own URL, and are associated with the editor (account owner) who created the page. Stories can be added to the publication by clicking the 3-dot icon at the bottom of each post.

Clean and functional writing interface

The Medium writing editor is so appealing that it’s starting to replace my tendency to draft posts in Google Drive. The editing interface slashes superfluous formatting choices and boldly leaves the basics in place, such as titles, subheadings, links, images, videos, embeds, and lists. In a world of too many choices, this less-is-more approach becomes all I need.

Privacy options

One of my favorite recent quotes is from a BlogHer editor who mentions how “writing begets writing”. We need to start somewhere, and the key is to just get started. Medium offers a private workspace while ideas are taking shape. Drafts can be circulated through a Share link viewable only to those who have the link. Posts can be marked unlisted until you are ready to make them public. With these options, Medium can be used for thinking, archiving, and idea generation in addition to being used as a public writing platform.

Reading what others are writing

Medium articles, which are emailed to me in a Daily Digest, have a thoughtful and introspective tone, sometimes bordering on provocative. With a glance at the top stories I can see which subjects are gaining popularity and observe about how catchy headlines are constructed. If Medium can keep its depth without turning into a Buzzfeed, it feels like a democratic environment where writers can learn and grow.

What I’m Still Learning

The algorithm

Today, Medium reminds me a little of the App Store: tons of content without a clear view on how content gets featured. I understand that sharing special sauce can be proprietary company information, but it would be nice to know if tagging, for example, makes much difference to a post’s visibility. Also, how much content does a follower see, and does follower count make any difference to the popularity of a post? This is an ongoing experiment for me and I plan to share more as I learn more.

Image formatting

There are stunning images on Medium that span the entire page view. There are also image grids to support multiple photos in a single section of the post. Medium’s Help Center explains how to format these images and embed them in your posts.

Letters to publication followers

There is a feature for publications called Letters, and it’s a way for the editors to reach out directly to followers. I have not used this feature, but like the idea of a mail list function that doesn’t require separate mail list management. Will Letters help build more connections? Will Letters be interpreted as spam? Here is what Medium says:

“Letters have the potential to provide what blogs used to through RSS subscriptions. With this, we’ve now made Publications truly a place for people to follow your work and get updates on your ideas, thoughts, and stories. We’d love for you to try it and let us know what you think at yourfriends@medium.com.”

Seamless connections to other channels

If publishing on Medium becomes just another item on the to-do list, traditional bloggers may be deterred from taking on more work. With the help of publishing APIs and IFTTT (if this then that) Recipes, integrating Medium into a blogging routine can become a seamless task. From a preliminary look, there are already 269 ways to connect to Medium through IFTTT: https://ifttt.com/medium.

I’m sure there are plenty of tips and tricks waiting to be discovered, and a full Medium FAQ has been published to help address the learning curve. Meanwhile, I look forward to finding more bloggers on Medium. With our native sense of community and mutual support, opportunities should abound.

Let’s connect! https://medium.com/@lorraineakemann

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

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Build Family Slideshows with iPhone and Apple TV

Our family was busy making memories over winter break. Many of these memories were captured on iPhone Camera Rolls in a blend of colorful photos and whimsical videos. Wouldn’t it be a shame for another year to go by without a soul enjoying the footage?

Thanks to tech tips from our tweens and the latest Apple technologies, we have modern tools to build slideshows in a flash. Here are five simple suggestions for creating and displaying your family’s content:

Snap photos while taking a video

Sometimes when I’m taking a video, I need to interrupt and switch to photo mode for a still picture. While I was fiddling, a young family friend showed me how to shoot a still while taking a video. From the iPhone Camera, go to video mode and start recording. Once you are recording, click the white button to the left of the red record button. This automatically saves a photo to the iPhone Camera Roll. What I like about this integration is that it encourages short video clips without missing “the shot”, and slideshows come alive with both types of media.

Beam content with Airdrop

When a groups snap photos together, the snapper may get left out of their own photos. For example, as photographer, I have many more photos of my husband and kids versus me and the kids. Airdrop is a great way to collect photos from each iPhoner without having to “email or text them later”, which rarely happens. “Hey, Airdrop that to me” lets you beam it right away to round out the photo album. To Airdrop, swipe up on your iphone, make yourself discoverable, choose a photo, click the share icon, and select Airdrop. Besides, Airdrop literacy may be important to know if you have older kids. I hear teens are using it for all sorts of things. Knowing how privacy settings work in advance could be very helpful to avoid future snafus.

Favorite your best shots

With hundreds or thousands of digital images on a single phone, editing into albums could be a laborious task. But favoriting them by clicking a heart is very simple, and populates an album of top choices at your fingertips. With your favorites identified, ordering prints or playing a slideshow requires less sorting. To favorite, go to Camera Roll, select a photo, and click the heart. To view, go to Camera Roll, view Albums, and select Favorites.

Mirror on Apple TV with Airplay

Why keep awesome holiday images locked up in the confines of your personal device? Apple TV makes it possible to view them on the big screen. To view, turn on Apple TV, swipe up on your iPhone, click AirPlay, click Apple TV, and toggle Mirroring to ON. Make sure wifi is enabled in your Settings. If so, you should be able to see your iPhone screen on the TV.

Select Slideshow for all to see

If you followed steps 1 through 4, you should have a fun album of favorited content in your Camera Roll. Assuming this is true, go to Photos, Albums, Favorites, and select the first picture. Click the share icon, and choose Slideshow as an option from the bottom menu (choices should be Copy, Print, Slideshow, AirPlay, etc.). A dynamic collage of photos and videos will display through Apple TV to preset music. Slideshow options let you choose music, themes and pace. Voila!

The only problem with family slideshow night is that it’s too much fun. Everyone wants to share photos on the big screen. Before you know it, people can’t stop TALKING. Kids retell highlights from their latest trip. Relatives ask questions about the details. Parents gawk at the scenery. All ages, young and old, begin to connect over common multimedia magic, which is refreshing after being glued to individual mini universes for so long.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

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3 Lessons I Learned About Online Privacy When My Teen Googled Her Name

When my daughter Googled her name following a conversation with friends about who is on the Internet, I turned out to be her biggest online privacy problem. The results of the name search displayed several photos from my personal blog that we thought were labeled anonymously. Uh oh.

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“Mom, why is my sports photo showing up on an Internet search?”, she asked.

Good question, I thought. I should know better.

And so began a series of steps to understand our digital footprint before she enters the world of social media on her own terms. I learned more from this experience than any privacy workshop, and would like to share how we are addressing and correcting the problem.

Lesson 1: Evolving as a parent

As a parent, I needed to realize that my daughter is not a toddler anymore. She has opinions about how she is (or is not) presented online, and my job is to completely respect those opinions. My old default was to be proud of some milestone and shout it out, just like I did when they started walking, talking or playing. My new default is to chill out. If they have something to share, they will soon be able to share it themselves. For the past two years, my Facebook feed dropped off from family sharing, specifically for this reason.

Lesson 2: Even if I think I’m sharing anonymously, Google still has a way of figuring things out!

I never shared their first and last name combinations on a post, but Google still linked the last name from my profile with her first name, displaying her data on a name search. In instances where I thought she was totally anonymous, Google Plus circumvented the anonymity by linking text from a friend’s comment. Ugh! Should I have been using code names from day one? Or, should I have opted out completely from the online sharing universe?

Lesson 3: Third parties that seem innocuous, like sports leagues, have their own set of issues.

Another photo that popped up was from an old team roster. This sports league required photo IDs for every player, and getting the IDs printed required uploading the photo to their database. Did their database have a delete function for players? No. Were these rosters searchable over the internet? Yes. Do I wish I would have known that in advance? Yes! Lesson learned.

Attempted Fixes

After running a name search on my personal blog, I substituted every first name reference to a generic “my daughter” or “my oldest” or “my youngest”. I did the same thing on Facebook by searching for my daughters’ names and adjusting or deleting any named posts. This seemed to fix the search listings on both platforms. Unfortunately, Google Plus is less cooperative. Even after deleting a post, the search results are still displaying the image. Next, I contacted the sports league director to request player privacy. They responded right away, but it’s taking awhile for the new privacy settings to take effect.

Moving Forward

If I had to repeat the last decade, what would I do differently? Blogging is an incredibly satisfying part of my life. I enjoy sharing stories, forming opinions, and connecting with others online. I also enjoy parenting. Luckily, I have great kids who learn along with me. I asked if they wanted to make the blog private or take anything down, and they said no. They enjoy looking back on our journeys and experiences together, even moreso now that they are becoming digital citizens themselves.

Today, I try to use more discretion before posting, keeping photos generally scenic or symbolic. When a photo is identifiable to mark a special moment, I ask permission first. What started as my personal blog is becoming a shared family archive that we enjoy. As new social platforms emerge, like Instagram, I show them my account and let them scroll through, so we experience (and learn) together how it works.

This strategy seems to be working just fine, for now…until the next episode comes along!

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Gifting Apps for the Holidays

With millions of apps in the mobile marketplace, chances are likely that a specific interest can be matched to a specific app. Gifting apps for the holidays is a way to deliver thoughtful and contemporary content to friends and colleagues. Do you have a favorite app that enhances your daily life? How about gifting it for your best friend? Ideal for simple and tailored seasonal giving, apps can be sent directly to the recipient. Let’s review how it’s done.

All you need to get started is an app store account, the email address of the recipient, and a link to your favorite app. I am an iPhone user so this tutorial will cover gifting from Apple’s iTunes Store directly from the phone, but all mobile platforms should support app gifting.

Find your app of choice from the App Store app, and press the share icon (circled in red)

Share

Select the gift option (also circled in red)

Gift

Type in the recipient’s email address

Send Gift

Pick a theme for your gift!
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Confirm your purchase

Confirmation

There you go! App gifting can be fun and easy. For kids app recommendations, check out my blog post featuring a list of holiday themed educational apps. For tweens and teens, you may want to read about Apple Music memberships or ways to set up an iTunes allowance. Whatever your preference, app gifting is a great way to check off your to-do list in a friendly and helpful way.

@LorraineAkemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

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Holiday Cheer Comes to Apps for Kids

Welcome to a wholesome and handcrafted collection of holiday apps for kids. These choices are ideal for upholding family traditions during the coziest time of year. Storybooks, songs and games are among the options to capture your attention. Cuddle up and settle in, because after browsing the selection you‘ll be ready to celebrate the season…

Snowflakes are Falling (storybook)
 Wee Christmas Puzzles (drag & drop puzzles for toddlers)
Christmas with Corabelle (5 games for preschoolers)
Reading Train Christmas (foundational reading skills)
Christmas Songs
Christmas Songs (gentle tunes for toddlers)
Felt Board Christmas (create seasonal scenes)
 Christmas Kids Piano (create holiday music)
 Holidays 2 (festive educational games)
 Find the Difference (classic holiday puzzle game)
 Far to the North (Snowy Arctic storybook)
 Christmas Games for Kids (toddler puzzles)
 Christmas Jam (Interactive musical scenes)

Check back when you can, because more apps are released on a regular basis. Looking for something specific? Try the Know What’s Inside app discovery center, or sign up for App Friday’s weekly newsletter.

Happy Holidays!

@LorraineAkemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Make Holiday Shopping Merry With These Five Apps

It’s time to put the phone in Elf Mode and get ready for the holiday shopping season. Mobile Moms are here to stay, and according to Baby Center’s latest report, apps with tools for savings and convenience top the wish list. Here are five tech savvy resources for managing the holidays from the palm of your hand.

Save money with app coupons

Have you ever meant to use a coupon, but forgot the paper at home? Apps solve this problem by making coupons available straight from your phone. These days, I look up major retailers to see if they have an app. Michael’s Crafts has a coupon section in their app which is linked to a local store. The most recent savings are always with me just by opening the app in the checkout line. Ching!

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Use Google for price comparisons and sale scheduling

During a recent SheKnows Twitter party about Black Friday, several attendees suggested Google Shopping for price comparisons on popular products. Done in advance, this research can help identify the best deals for holiday gifts. If deals are time-limited, Google Calendar can be used to schedule reminders. I’ve color coded sale events on Google Calendar, marking them in holiday red.

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Personalize the holidays with Shutterfly’s photo gifts

Many of the year’s best photos are stored in my iPhone’s camera roll. Using Shutterfly’s mobile app, I can select images directly from my phone to design a print or photo gift. Time I save shopping and uploading albums is redirected to thoughtful and personalized holiday gifting with a simple swipe and tap.

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Find the perfect gift card with Amazon

Gift cards are ideal for teachers, coaches, colleagues, or anyone we’d like to recognize across the miles. Amazon’s holiday gift cards can be tailored to meet every need. Would you like the gift card emailed, printed at home, in a greeting card, in a gift box, in the form of a bookmark, or animated? Your choice. And yes, I said a “bookmark” — how cool is that?

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Make shipping fun and easy with USPS

‘Tis the Season at USPS. United States Postal Service just launched a site especially for the holidays at http://ourseason.com. Navigate to the site from your phone’s web browser and share to your home screen for an easily accessible mobile version. Once there, you can order free holiday shipping boxes (so festive!), browse holiday stamps, schedule a pickup, track a package, and even download an augmented reality app for festive postal animations. No kidding!

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How have you been using apps to help get organized for the holidays? I’m sure the Elves would love to know. Ho Ho Ho!!!

@LorraineAkemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

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