Interview | Snehal Patel Wants You to Play Sokikom

Sokikom is an award-winning developer of math social learning games designed to motivate elementary school students in grades 1 through 6. Founder and CEO Snehal Patel got the idea for Sokikom when he was a math tutor and become aware of how many students weren’t excited about and engaged in learning math. Snehal saw that these kids were missing out on building the foundation in math skills that they were going to need to succeed in high school, college and beyond. He also saw that math games – especially those that were social – got these same kids excited about and engaged in learning math. “This made me think,” he says, “How many other students in the U.S. face this same problem, and how can we use online technology to address it?” That was the genesis of Sokikom – a highly engaging online math game with community and team-play elements.

Victor: What does the name “Sokikom” mean?

Snehal: The name Sokikom is a mix of some math geekiness and a portmanteau – a blend of the parts from two words – social and communal. Both of these words are joined by two k’s, which when backed against one another look similar to the mathematical symbol for a natural join. So, Sokikom means joining social and community to improve learning.

Victor: How do you pronounce “Sokikom”?

Snehal: Sokikom is pronounced as so-kee-kom.

Victor: What products does Sokikom offer?

Snehal: Sokikom currently includes three online math social learning games: Frachine, which focuses on fractions, decimals and percents; Opirate, which emphasizes mathematic operations and algebra; and Treeching, which concentrates on the principles of measurement, algebra, patterns, time and money. We are currently developing our fourth game, which will concentrate on geometry, for release in summer 2011.

Victor: What are the benefits of Sokikom math games to schools, districts, states?

Snehal: One of the biggest challenges – if not the biggest – in early math education is engaging students. Sokikom offers educators the ability to motivate students in an exciting math social learning game, where students experience intense engagement. Teachers tell us it is unlike anything they have ever seen before. Sokikom also provides students with adaptive learning personalized to their needs. We know implementing education technology can be challenging. That’s why Sokikom was designed to be fully web-based so it’s easy to deploy, manage and integrate in school settings.

Lastly, Sokikom leads to real learning improvements, as our U.S. Department of Education-funded research studies reveal.

Victor: How are the Sokikom math games unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market? 

Snehal: Sokikom is unique because it is the first fully web-based math learning game for all the elementary grades that is massively multiplayer online. This means that not only can two, three or four kids play the same game at once, but over 30 kids can play the same game in real time. And, hundreds of these games can be played at once. This results in social learning, where kids help kids learn math in a way never seen before in education.

There are other companies offering students ways to learn and practice math skills online in a game-like setting. But, frankly, no other company is offering an online math game in a social learning environment like Sokikom.

Victor: What impact can the Sokikom math games have on student achievement?

Snehal: Our games are having a truly positive impact! As our research studies – funded by the U.S. Department of Education – have shown, Sokikom leads to measurable progress in both test scores and student motivation to learn math. For example, a school in Arizona saw a 15 percent increase in math scores after just 2 ½ hours of game-play. That’s huge! More information about our research can be found at http://www.sokikom.com/results/.

Victor: When were the Sokikom math games developed? What’s something interesting or relevant about their development history?
Snehal: We began designing the games in 2008 and continue to refine our existing games and develop new ones. Something not many people know about our development process is we have conducted more than 100 user-testing sessions, with individual students and entire classrooms, to inform the development of our game. These tests were designed to find the best ways to improve student motivation and achievement with Sokikom.

Victor: Where did the Sokikom math games originate? Where can you get them now?
Snehal: The idea behind Sokikom originated when I was tutoring kids after school, and the games were developed in Chandler, Ariz., where our company is based.

Parents, educators and students can sign up for our free, unlimited-use basic account. Or, they can upgrade to our premium version directly from our website at www.sokikom.com.

Victor: How much do the Sokikom math games cost? What are the options?
Snehal: We have a 100 percent free, unlimited-use, basic version for parents, educators and students. We also have premium versions for educators and parents. Educators can purchase an annual subscription to our premium version for $20 per student. Parents can purchase a six-month subscription to our premium version for $49 per student, or they can purchase a month-to-month subscription for $11.95 per student. All premium accounts give unlimited use to all of Sokikom’s math games and extra content. In addition, the premium versions provide extra incentives and rewards for students.

Victor: Are the Sokikom math games a school or home product?

Snehal: Both! Our games are designed to positively impact learning both in and out of the classroom.

Victor: What are some examples of the Sokikom math games in action?

Snehal: Sokikom is currently being used in more than 100 elementary schools in the U.S. and growing rapidly. You can see examples of Sokikom’s math social learning game in action by watching the amazing video on our homepage: https://www.sokikom.com/. None of this footage was scripted – it was captured as students played Sokikom in the classroom with their peers. And there are now some print success stories describing this experience on our website as well.

Victor: Who are the Sokikom math games for, and who are they not for?
Snehal: Sokikom is designed to improve math learning for the foundational skills of students in grades 1 through 6. Since Sokikom is skill-based, even older or younger students can use it. Sokikom is not for students seeking specific help learning advanced math topics such as those taught in advanced high school or college mathematics.

Victor: How do the Sokikom math games affect student engagement in learning math?
Snehal: Students who may not have had success or interest in learning math in the past get excited when it is presented to them in a social learning game environment. Gifted students are compelled by the safe, competitive aspects and recognition they receive within the player community.

Sokikom combines the engagement of game play with what’s inherently interesting about mathematics. Our proprietary technology for guided instruction – and student-to-student tutoring – makes learning more effective in the classroom and at home. We call this unique approach Massively Multiplayer Online Social Learning Games.

Victor: Are the Sokikom math games aligned to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics?

Snehal: Yes. We are also rooted in the nationally recognized standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Curriculum Focal Points for Grades PreK-6.

Victor: What is your view of the impact of technology on math instruction?
Snehal: I believe technology plays a critical role in the improvement of math instruction. It provides a higher level of engagement, creativity and personalization than a traditional textbook. It also allows us as educators to quickly determine what works and what doesn’t for a particular student.

Victor: What are some of your thoughts on education these days? 

Snehal: I think we may be facing the biggest education challenge in our history. This is mainly due to the rate of technological advancement of our civilization. It can be argued that human civilization has advanced more so in the past 50 years than in any other 50-year period in history – just think about what the world looked like 50 years ago. Most of these advancements have been technology-related, which is largely based on mathematics, problem-solving and critical thinking. These skills are essential, not only to continued innovation, but also to thriving in this technology-enabled world.

Victor: What formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating the Sokikom math games?

Snehal: My family moved a lot when I was young. From kindergarten to sixth grade, I moved to five different schools in various states across the country. Back then, I didn’t like all the moving. But now, I’m thankful because it gave me the opportunity to learn in different states, schools, classrooms and with different teachers. This was also when I began to realize that many of my peers struggled in math – as did some of my elementary school teachers.

Victor: How do the Sokikom math games address some of your concerns about education?

Snehal: When I was young, I saw firsthand that my peers had trouble understanding math, and they quickly found it boring and lost interest. Sokikom motivates students to learn math and allows them to work with their peers to improve their knowledge as well as teach other students.

Victor: What else would you tell educators or leaders in education about the value of Sokikom math games?

Snehal: I think one of the biggest concerns with games of any type is their educational merit. Conventional wisdom has always told us games are meant to be for fun or entertainment, not for serious learning. Our research dispels this notion by providing sound evidence that games can improve both learning outcomes and student motivation to learn.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Snehal: I’m optimistic! As much as I believe in Sokikom, it would be silly for me to think it is the one solution to all our education problems. It is not. But what Sokikom can do is play a critical role in the acceleration of student achievement in mathematics. I see Sokikom and other valuable technology tools as essential contributors to educational improvement and the evolution of the role of a teacher from a monolithic instructor to more of a coach. As our research shows, with Sokikom, students become more excited about learning, increase their test scores and build a firm foundation in math skills.

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Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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