By Ariel Visconti
Burlington-based start-up SMARTeacher wants to prove that video games can be more effective than traditional methods alone for teaching math to children.
The company’s product, Prodigy, teaches over 600 math skills to children in grades 1-8 through an interactive online game they can play with their friends. The game provides a personalized learning experience to each child by giving an initial diagnostic test and tracking their progress to adjust the difficulty level.
To help educators, Prodigy aligns with Ontario’s curriculum and provides real-time reporting to teachers so they can improve the classroom learning experience. Best of all, it keeps kids engaged so they want to play the game both at school and at home.
“Many of the students played Prodigy for hours each week outside of school on their own time,” says Grade 6 teacher Stephanie McDermott, whose students used the game last year. “Basically, the kids were motivated and just ‘doing’ more math because of Prodigy! I believe it is this simple fact that likely allowed for a noticeable growth or improvement in their overall grasp of their grade level curriculum.”
Launched in 2013, Prodigy currently has over 80 per cent of grade 1-8 students in Ontario registered and is getting impressive results in improving standardized test scores among active students, according to a recent study conducted by SMARTeacher’s co-founder, Rohan Mahimker.
The study examined grade 3 EQAO standardized math test results from the 75 elementary schools in Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (KPRDSB), which were among the first to adopt Prodigy. Board Director Rusty Hick saw great potential in the innovative learning tool and began rolling out the game to schools early in the 2013-14 academic year.
The company’s study cites data from the 2014 EQAO results showing that schools where at least one grade 3 classroom was active on Prodigy improved by 3.0 per cent over the previous year, versus a 0.1 per cent improvement for inactive schools. Schools where over 85 per cent of grade 3 students were active saw an 11.6 per cent improvement on scores, which was 11.5 per cent higher than inactive schools.
Grade 3 EQAO scores have declined overall in Ontario in recent years, with only 67 percent of students in 2013 and 2014 meeting standards compared to 71 percent in 2010. But the company’s assessment of the positive impact of Prodigy in active Kawartha Pine Ridge schools shows promise for incorporating a game-based approach to teaching math.
OCE invested $140,000 in SMARTeacher through the Market Readiness program, which helped the team launch the HTML5 version of their game in August 2014. The new version has been a significant driver of growth for the company and allows users to play Prodigy on virtually any modern web browser across several devices (iPads, Android tablets, Macs, PCs and Chromebooks).
“We were excited about supporting a company with this kind of creative thinking and such a strong vision for its product,” says Dr. Tom Corr, president and CEO of Ontario Centres of Excellence. “The future for SMARTeacher looks very bright.”
Over 2 million students are currently registered to play Prodigy, with an average of 15,000 new students signing up per weekday. Now a market leader in Ontario, SMARTeacher has its sights set on dominating the American market. The company is currently in the midst of expanding into the U.S., where Prodigy’s user base is more than doubling each month.