Can a games platform tackle kids’ anxiety about having to do math?


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You know that feeling when you look at your bank statements and try to figure out what on earth is going on? Or when you do your taxes? It turns out this isn’t just an insignificant feeling, but a scientifically recognized anxiety. Mathematics Anxiety (MA) is defined in research literature as feelings of concern, tension or nervousness experienced in combination with math in ordinary life and in academic situations.

And it is, in fact, a widespread worldwide problem which can cause damaging effects throughout life. If your population is too scared to add up and subtract, your economy will suffer. Badly. Some 17 million adults in the UK (49% of the working-age) have a numeracy level expected from primary school children. This results in a £20 billion loss to the UK economy a year, according to one study. If that’s just the UK, imagine what the figures must be for other countries?

If people weren’t so anxious about doing math, then we’d probably also have more tech workers. More than three quarters (77%) of children with high math anxiety are – when tested – between normal to high achievers on curriculum math tests. So this anxiety prevents students from entering STEM fields when in fact they would be perfectly able to perform well in these fields.

The problem is down to the amygdala, the same part of the brain that responds to fearful situations. It shows a heightened response in children with high math anxiety (as if it’s a physical danger) and triggers a fight-or-flight response.

The origins of Math Anxiety are rooted in the prevalence of accumulated negative math learning experiences by the age around six years old. So if you could get kids comfortable with Math by age 6, then you’d boost the economy and society.

Now, to address this problem, two young math-savvy mums have co-founded a startup, Funexpected, to tackle this worldwide problem.

Their solution is a ‘multisensory’ iOS app offering a new approach to learning which has achieved significant early success. Inside the first month of its launch, Apple featured the app among its “Best of September” and “New Apps We Love” in the UK and ‘Best Apps for Kids,’ ‘Awesome Kids Apps’ categories in App Stores of more than 60 countries.

By late October this year, the startup has been selected as an edtech innovator for the EDUCATE programme led by the UCL Institute of Education,  considered by many to be the leading UK research accelerator into EdTEch. And as of last week, Apple Stores will feature the Funexpected app on the stores’ native devices among Prisma, Alterlight, Headspace and other big names.

Furthermore, next year, Dor Abrahamson, professor of cognition and development at the UC Berkeley School of Education, plans to create a game for the app.

The bootstrapped startup, founded by Natalia Pereldik (after she left Investment Banking) together with friend Alexandra Kazilo, has now seen its app downloaded more than 35,000 times in over 50 countries in four weeks after the launch.

So what does it do?

The app itself is a collection of 11 games located across the landscapes of Japan, Egypt and Greenland. Children tap, cut, slide, grab, move animated on-screen objects to propel the story forward, such as by feeding a monkey with the correct amount of juicy berries gathered from various branches or learning logic by catching the right type of fish with a net and filling a fish pond. Parents can use it with their kids as well. The app runs a subscription-based model of £3.99 a month ($5.25) or £31.99 a year ($42.10)

It’s tackling a big market. The global mobile learning market was valued at $10.93 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach $179.21 billion by 2025.

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