Working for an app startup, in this article Fraser Medvedik-Horn learns that he’s got a lot to learn
Recently, I began employment with a startup in the field of educational apps (unnamed here as I only just started, better check this with someone!). It’s designed to improve literacy and numeracy for kids from kindergarten right to the end of schooling, so there’s a real variety of questions ranging from ‘how many ducks?’ through to ‘Are these true mathematical functions’?
Since it has got such a range of activities, it can be used over years to track students’ growth, with lots of handy graphs. It uses a diagnostic test to understand their level at first and it follows up with algorithm which ensures they are getting questions which are appropriate for their level and curriculum
It will be my job to sell it to teachers and educators around the world, so I decided to test it out. Here’s what’s it revealed.
My Maths Skills Could Probably Do With Work
Like most people, since I left high school I haven’t needed to use mathematics for much apart from the basics – addition, subtraction, multiplication. Things like fractions and factorisation? Very little utility in my day to day life.
For most people, if you want to work out how much milk you had left if you started with 1 litre and a fifth and you drank two-fifths, you would just eyeball it. But kids get asked this sort of question to practise fractions so I had to dig deep and remember how a lot of fairly basic tasks like this worked.
It wasn’t impossible, I was just my slower than I should have been. It was actually pretty humbling to play on the app as it pits you against other users, who are primarily school children of varying levels, and they are surprisingly difficult to beat. In part this is because the games themselves take some skill to win the most points and I am as lapsed a gamer as I am a mathematician.
But I Got Better!
While going through product training I had to make some test accounts. I also had to go through a diagnostic test myself so I could see what the educators see.
I tested at the correct level that I had elected for my student, S5, and then I played past the diagnostic. And do you know what I saw? I got better. I veritably skyrocketed.
Turns out that mathematics ability is a muscle which must be exercised. When all you do is the basics that you need for life, like calculating income versus expenditure, you plateau. With only half an hour of practise, however, you can find yourself relearning skills you thought you had long ago forgotten.
And I’m sure you’d agree, having more skills is better than having fewer.
I felt my ability was coming back. I found I could answer quicker. Plus I got to grips with the games, which are actually really fun. Educational technology has come a long way since I was younger and I think it will become a bigger part of future educational development.
What Are the Limits?
The app does have some limitations as it is more a tool of revision and practise than an introducer of new techniques, but there is no one method of education which is perfect.
If you do all of your educating via textbooks, students will get bored and will switch off. If you do all of your educating through practical experiments, you will find your students haven’t got the theory and the experience on paper to pass exams. Educating people effectively takes a variety of different methods and tools, lots of different media and active use. Because education is not just teaching people to pass exams, it is giving them practical skills which they can use in real life and real life is a complex place.
All this taken into account, if you want something which is fun and can really bring back a person’s love of practising mathematics, well-designed apps which give you graphs and insight into how they are doing are a really good way to go. Especially for younger kids who can find it hard to focus, something fun while being educational is useful for their development. I am looking forward to selling it on these grounds as I have become a believer.
The writer of this piece quite enjoyed the app and would have had a good time working on it but sadly it’s not to happen. It remains here nameless.
Bit of a wrecker of a post, actually. Talked to a teacher friend for two minutes over facebook to pick their brain about app-based education then got unfriended. Attended an interview one day at lunchtime, failed because I couldn’t devote all my time to it and lost the app job for various reasons which are tedious to explain.
If you know any employers looking for enthusiastic people, let me know.