New maths-learning resource for children adds fun to the equation
Currently being used in 650 Irish schools, Izak9 offers a shared learning experience
Izak9 creator Franz Schlindwein: his product, which resembles a cube, is an interactive maths-learning resource aimed at children in the final years of primary school. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty
Franz Schlindwein taught maths and science at secondary level for more than 25 years and has a lot of sympathy for those who were turned off maths at school. He believes maths learning is too focused on books and that kids find it dry and boring as a result. In an effort to put some fun into fractions and punch into percentages, Schlindwein has developed Izak9, a hands-on, interactive maths-learning resource aimed at children in the final years of primary school.
“What’s out there at present is books and more books and although there are many web-based products available, in the main they are tedious, repetitive, demand too much screen time and ultimately offer only isolated learning as the vast majority are completed by one child at a computer on his or her own,” Schlindwein says.
Schlindwein first started work on Izak9 in 2009. He then spent five years developing the product at a cost of €150,000. Total investment to date is running at about €300,000 and this has been funded through product sales (over €1 million so far) and the assistance of Invest NI and InterTrade Ireland.
Physically, the Izak9 product resembles a cube and each cube is focused on a specific task from the maths curriculum such as algebra, sequences and number operations. Children work in small groups to solve the problem at hand with the position of team leader rotated. Every child has physical involvement with the task and there are currently 30 tasks in the Izak9 portfolio.
Backed by online support material
The product is sold in packages to suit school sizes and is backed by online support material and lesson planning. The brightly coloured cubes are made from durable materials and come in a protective carrying case. Prices start at €750.
Izak9 is currently being used in about 450 schools in Northern Ireland and 200 schools in the Republic. What’s hampering sales growth in the North at the moment, however, is the lack of a government there, as schools don’t have the budget to buy the product.
“In my experience children in upper primary schools are bored with maths now that the element of play has been removed,” Schlindwein says. “Most of the learning is isolated – child versus book. Keeping children interested in maths is really important because the percentage of pupils globally that become less confident in maths as they grow up goes from 23 per cent to 43 per cent between the ages of 8 and 12.
“Izak9 offers a shared learning experience for all pupils irrespective of perceived ability or preferred learning style,” Schlindwein says. “The environment is visual and kinaesthetic, rich in problem-solving and offers pupils the chance to develop reasoning. It also gets relationships going and they learn transferable skills as opposed to focusing solely on the maths curriculum.
Visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning
“Very few methods of teaching maths to children provide genuine learning opportunities for visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners,” he adds. “There is also no “M” in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) when it comes to the STEM agenda in schools. Maths needs to be at the forefront of STEM. If this were the case then we would have children who are more confident about their ability to tackle problems as opposed to viewing maths as an imposition. Only 13 per cent of girls choose STEM at university compared with 39 per cent of boys. This isn’t because they can’t outperform boys in these subjects, it’s because they don’t like them.”
The main customers for Izak9 will be schools, education centres, universities and education authorities. It has already been picked up by a number of teacher-training centres around Ireland and an Irish language version is on the way. The company, which is based in Derry where it employs five, is also in discussion with potential partners in Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark.