Moving Fast with Motion Math

The most profound concept a child should understand is that learning comes from overcoming challenges. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Jacob Klein of Motion MathFascinated by the potential of video games and of mobile technology to make abstract concepts more tangible and exciting, Jacob Klein (pictured) and Gabriel Adauto co-founded Motion Math. As Jacob explains, tablets opened up a new world of possibilities in which visuals are directly manipulated (as opposed to the disconnected interface of monitor and mouse/keyboard). This intuitive interface allowed the Motion Math team to find inspiration “not just from the past 30 years of learning games,” he says, “but the past 200 years of math manipulatives developed by Montessori and Froebel. We are leveraging digital manipulables to turn math’s most challenging stumbling blocks into delightful game experiences.”

Victor: What’s something interesting about it’s development history?

Motion Math GamesJacob: Well, we started the company with an iPhone prototype in a class at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. And then a month after we started that class, Apple announced the iPad – amazing timing! Tablets really have opened up new possibilities of designing for younger kids. It’s an exciting time.

Victor: Anything interesting about your own background that informed your current approach?

Jacob: Gabriel my co-founder has an enterprise platform background so we’re aiming for a very modular, scalable solution, and my background is video production so we care a lot about our visual design, especially because so many educational materials are so ugly! Everyone on our team has experience teaching students and with software design, so we’ve all very passionate about the company mission.

Guidance for educators?! That’s backward. They guide us. Hopefully, if they teach elementary math, they find value in our games and can give us feedback on how to better serve their students.

Victor: What’s your 60 second pitch to someone on what exactly it is, benefits?

Jacob: Motion Math makes delightful mobile learning games that help kids master the most challenging concepts of elementary math. Learners will be more engaged and will have mastery over the fundamentals they need to succeed.

Victor: Do you have any direct or indirect competition? 

Jacob: There are many math software providers, many with very rigorous, research-based approaches. I think what’s different about our approach, and that of a few competitors we really respect, is that we’re not using games for what’s often deemed “gamification” – the points, badges, and competition. That’s approach often takes existing worksheets and just makes a game of the rewards. We’re actually using the medium of games for the learning experience, because games are wonderful interactive structures for challenge, and because a playful attitude towards learning can create more motivation as well as novel, creative connections.

Victor: Any highlights about test marketing it or starting out; any interesting feedback, reaction to it?

Jacob: We’re now up to 3,000,000 downloads, and we’ve heard lots of encouraging reactions and reviews. The feedback from teachers in particular has been very encouraging because they understand so well the problems that students face in math. We also like to beta-test our games during afterschool programs, so the alternative for kids is playing kickball with their friends. When our game starts to beat our kickball we know we’ve created something truly engaging.

Victor: What’s been the value and benefit of working in the co.lab environment, with co.lab support?

Jacob: It’s only been two months, but we’ve already learned tons from the other cohort companies, from guest speakers, from the greater NewSchools community, and from Zynga engineers and PMs that have mentored us. Hearing the diverse approaches companies are taking for a sustainable business model in particular has been very interesting.  And the office space is super-fun as well – five ping-pong tables!

Victor: Anything else in the works? Additional products, features, series or angles?

Jacob: Naw, we’re done. Just kidding! Yes, lots of new K-6 math games are in the works, as well as additional features that will let us integrate more fully into a teacher’s workday.

Victor: Your thoughts on education in general these days?

Jacob: It’s an exciting time to be in edtech! We’ve met lots of passionate, smart people who are creating solutions optimistically, even though improving educational outcomes is a very thorny, long-term problem. It’s not easy, but it’s very gratifying work to see kids learn and get excited about learning.

Victor: Any guidance or advice to educators these days? What makes you say that?

Jacob: Guidance for educators?! That’s backward. They guide us. Hopefully, if they teach elementary math, they find value in our games and can give us feedback on how to better serve their students.

Victor: Anything more you’d like to add or emphasize?

Jacob: Let’s create experiences for kids to discover how powerful and beautiful math can be!

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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