Boxing clever with more than just a numbers game
START-UP NATION: THOUGHTBOXRather than presenting cold mathematical problems, ‘Numerosity’ allows children solve challenges their way
Teaching a young dog some new tricks is at the centre of ThoughtBox’s debut iPad app: a maths-based game for children aged eight to 12 years old called Numerosity. The difference between this and other educational games, says the company’s founder Cristina Luminea, is the onus is on the child to “become the teacher”.
“Most of the games out there that children might have played before will usually have a character that teaches them about maths, whereas this is about the kids trying to teach a character how to solve different mathematical problems,” she says.
The character in question is Skruff, a numerically confused pooch who is the face of Numerosity and, it’s hoped, of future ThoughtBox products as well.
Luminea started up ThoughtBox in September 2011, making her way through various prototypes of Numerosity and working alongside some “excellent developers” in the months that followed. Finally, she says, this April, she hit upon a version of the company’s debut game that felt right .
Having already secured a place within the NDRC Launchpad program (with a matched grant of €15,000), in July the company won the Blueface Elevator competition, which resulted in €60,000 worth of business services. Added to all this, ThoughtBox was one of the 10 companies given €50,000 and office space by the Dublin headquarters of the Wayra Academy in September. The Blueface award, in particular, has been useful, says Luminea, noting that the “legal advice, accountancy services, PR and other elements” of the prize are “often the things that start-ups push to the background while they stay focused on the product alone”.
Sitting at her desk at the Wayra Academy, Luminea scrolls through Numerosity explaining how, over five chapters, it allows a child to solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and negative-number challenges in their own way. As questions appear on screen the player shows Skruff the solution they would choose, and how they would go about it.
Luminea says the goal is to attract younger children to maths, as well as the 11- or 12 year-olds who have decided they hate the subject. It moves along at a pace that suits the individual child, while Skruff’s various skateboard tricks and other interactive features help keep players entertained, says Luminea, as opposed to presenting them with “cold” mathematical problems.
Piece by piece
Players can drag numbers involved in an equation across the screen, solving it piece by piece, if that’s how they wish to tackle the problem. “I want kids to be able to move the numbers around whichever way they want to figure out an issue,” says Luminea, who adds that such an approach has been welcomed by teachers (“There are huge numbers out there interested in this type of technology”) and pupils alike.
She speaks about a recent visit to a primary school in Tallaght where children, who work with tablets on a daily basis, “immediately clicked” with the game.
Originally intended for a September release on the iPad (android and iPhone versions are also under consideration), Luminea – who will soon hire a designer/ creative director and a marketing intern – held back on submitting it to Apple when the potential reach of the game became clearer.
Aimed initially at the vast US market, Luminea says educational games that have performed well in the past tend to be launched in multiple languages. Romanian-born and fluent in several languages herself, Luminea decided to create German, Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese versions as well, with the game then officially launched early this month at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston.
A former IT Sligo student, Luminea has two degrees in software development and one in international marketing, as well as a research master’s in engineering. Until last year she was part of the new ventures and innovation group in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH).
With Numerosity now available worldwide, ThoughtBox is set to stay “in the maths area” for the next few releases, while the development of science-based games aimed at a similar audience is also a priority.