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Showing posts with label game. Show all posts
Showing posts with label game. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Start-Up Uses Online Games to Teach Kids Math

Education is one area the Internet has not yet transformed, and a
new crop of start-ups and venture capitalists are rushing to fill that
void, creating Web tools that serve as home tutors for kids who need
help outside the classroom.


The latest entry is DreamBox Learning,
which on Tuesday is unveiling a Web site to teach math to kids in
kindergarten through second grade. The lessons are taught through video
games. Kids pick a theme, such as an arcade or adventure park, and a
character, such as a dinosaur or pirate, and play an online game with a
hidden math lesson.

“The hallmark of the product is it’s real math, but children think
it’s a game,” said Lou Gray, DreamBox Learning’s chief executive

DreamBox, based in Bellevue, Wash., has four teachers on its
21-person staff and developed the curriculum based on the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics guidelines. It charges a
subscription fee of $49 for six months, though users can try it out
free for two weeks.

Mr. Gray, who sold a mobile technology start-up, UIEvolution, to
Square Enix for $58 million in 2004, co-founded DreamBox with Benjamin
Slivka, who founded and led the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft.
Along with several other angel investors, they invested $7.1 million to
build the company. They started it in 2006 and built five test versions
of the site before deciding to open the latest version to the public.

The challenge with the prior versions, Mr. Gray said, was finding
the balance between education and gaming. They tested versions that
were boring to children and couldn’t hold their attention, but did not
want to make the site so much like a game that children did not pay
attention to the lessons.

Parents have many new e-learning sites to choose from. We have written about a few, including Indian Math Online and Brightstorm.

How will DreamBox distinguish itself? Mr. Gray said that the site
offers students a more personalized lesson plan (though that is
something that many of these start-ups also say they offer.)

“Most competitors are doing repetition practice and drills — the
lesson pathway is very linear, from lesson one to two, whether you
crawled there or whether you zoomed there,” he said. “We founded the
company with the idea that every student deserves an individually
tailored education.”

DreamBox created a technology called GuideRight, modeled after the
Amazon.com technology that shows users which items they might like
based on past searches and purchases. DreamBox customizes lessons by
constantly analyzing not just how many questions a child answered
correctly but things like how she performed in the past, how long she
took to answer a question and how many hints she needed. There are over
a million paths a child could take through the DreamBox curriculum, Mr.
Gray said.

Subscription Web sites have had a harder time attracting users than
free sites that depend on advertising for revenue. But as digital
advertising dries up, venture capitalists are seeking Web companies
with alternative revenue models like subscriptions, and Mr. Gray said
he is convinced that parents will pay for a tutoring site. He said he
would never run ads on the site because many parents do not want their
kids exposed to ads.

DreamBox’s angel investors have committed $2 million on top of their
initial investments, Mr. Gray said. The company plans to expand to
later grades and other subjects and invite outside developers to build
applications on the DreamBox platform.

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