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News Archives | co.lab

The end of the yellow brick road

In his novel, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Frank Baum famously said “everything has to come to an end, sometime” and so it does. Today we are announcing that, in conjunction with the conclusion of cohort #5, our co.lab program will come to an end.

When we started operating co.lab in Sept 2013, it was conceived as a non-for-profit partnership between NewSchools Venture Fund and Zynga.org to support startups at the intersection of games and learning. This growing and promising sub-market of the edtech ecosystem has a number of specific challenges and opportunities that we believed deserved a dedicated program with hands-on support. Our goal in starting co.lab was to help the ecosystem grow and prosper. We are believers in the power of games and their ability to provide engaging and enriching educational experiences for children. Our intention was to create a stronger ecosystem of learning games by selecting some of the most innovative startups in the field and providing them with best practices from both the ed-tech and the commercial games industries.  

After 2.5 years, 5 cohorts, more than 200 applicants and 29 companies who have gone through the program, it is clear that co.lab served a need in the market and has proven valuable to participating startups. Our companies have proven to make a difference in student outcomes: with an NPS score of 8.9  and over $57 million in follow-on capital raised, they are reaching more than 50M students. More than half of co.lab companies have conducted successful efficacy studies, have received critical acclaim and recognitions such as Common Sense Media, Parent’s Choice and Editor’s Choice awards, and/or have been funded by US government grants for further development based on their educational promise.

One of the special things about co.lab has been its hands-on approach. We selected small cohorts of between five and seven companies so that we could focus on each company’s unique needs and work with their founders one-on-one around product, go to market, and strategic priorities. We strived for diversity accepting companies that were well developed and looking for a pivotal step to hockey-stick their growth, such as Kidaptive, as well as those that were merely an ambitious idea led by amazing entrepreneurs, such as Piper. With Nearpod and WriteLab we mixed in some “non-gaming” companies so we could learn about how consumer software and games could be applied to ed-tech platforms. Our talented entrepreneurs have grown their companies significantly since participating in co.lab and being part of those journeys has been a true privilege for everyone here.

As a result of our front row seat in the market we have learned a lot, and we would like to share a brief summary of those learnings in this last co.lab post. So here they are, the main “lessons learned” during our 2.5 years at co.lab

Lesson one: Consumer-driven design

One assumption we started with was that large consumer software companies could contribute value to edtech startups; that’s why we partnered with Zynga. The education software industry is experiencing a revolution led by companies that disrupt the market from the “bottom up.” Teachers and parents are adopting products independently of any mandate by a school or district, therefore the user experience must resemble that of consumer software, with apps or services that delight and engage users. This contrasts with the old edtech industry where products were largely designed for compliance. They satisfied the needs of the district’s tech requirements and regulations, not necessarily those of the teachers, students and parents. We believe this revolution, in which co.lab companies such as Nearpod, WriteLab and Lab4U are well represented, will finally deliver on the promise of technology as a tool to empower teachers and parents and supercharge education. We found that entrepreneurs received a lot of value from their interactions with the Zynga employees, given the consumer-driven approach of today’s edtech companies. Zynga’s employees’ “lessons learned” in the commercial games industry were invaluable for edtech entrepreneurs, particularly in the areas of product design, development and growth.  We would love to see other mature technology companies undertake similar initiatives where they can apply their best asset, their talent, to mentor social-impact entrepreneurs.

Lesson two: Parents value free over quality

Parents, by and large, are still not paying for their children’s out-of-school digital educational content. We have found that the conversation on digital media usage by kids is still largely dominated by discussion around “screen time” rather than “screen quality”. Many parents still view “screen time” as a treat or a digital babysitter, rather than a tool that serves as an enriching experience in their child’s educational growth, explaining parents’ unwillingness to pay a premium. Not surprisingly, many of the highest grossing kid mobile apps are kids’ video services. However, we believe that a cultural shift will happen sooner rather than later. Just like we once started recycling (and now composting) our garbage and eating organic foods, we believe parents will soon happily supply their children with quality educational apps and pay for them. In addition, the emergence of well organized, vetted distribution platforms, where parents can easily find apps that deliver on their educational promise and are loved by kids, will serve the best quality developers and benefit the whole ecosystem. We’ll be watching!

Lesson three: High barriers to meet K12 needs

Schools are a challenging market for learning games. Even though 74% of K-8 teachers claim to use some kind of games in their classrooms, it is very difficult for cash-strapped startups to get any of that action. Teachers, understandably, look for apps that solve multiple pain-points at once. In terms of content, this translates into platforms with a wide breadth of coverage ideally across subject areas and age ranges. Educators prefer one platform that serves all their needs over jumping from one app to another. Unfortunately, given the high production costs of content in general and of games in particular, companies seemingly need to heavily invest in content development before getting any serious traction. I call this the “lean startup dilemma” of learning games: startups have to find a way to develop a wide breadth of content before being able to get traction. The lack of distribution platforms does not help, exacerbating the discovery problem for teachers and complicating the integration of different apps into the already hectic school day. Again, just like in the previous points, we expect this problem to change with the emergence of school content platforms that, for example, could combine content from different developers. We’ll be waiting!

Lesson four: Business model innovation and perseverance

Lastly, a piece of advice for entrepreneurs in this field – I have two words for you:  innovate (particularly around business models) and persevere! Waiting for Apple or Google to feature you in hopes of making your business successful is a strategy that we know doesn’t work. While of course this does help, it doesn’t move the needle most of the time, particularly when it comes to revenue sustainability. I encourage you to think about other ways to get in front of users and use them as a catalyst for growth. We have seen companies like GoNoodle use an alternative sponsor-based business model with great success, while others like ABC Mouse leverage the power of TV advertising for commercial scale. Other successful business strategies we’ve seen are integration with after-school programs and summer camps such as Tynker or aggressively going global as Enuma does. Of course there is no silver bullet for success but we for sure know that just publishing a well produced app certainly is not enough to generate significant traction.

The second piece of advice is about perseverance. As I highlighted above, there are some tectonic shifts in the making that will positively impact the learning games market, namely society’s perception of kids’ digital media and novel distribution platforms. My advice is simple: be there when these shifts take place! We already know schools are a tough cookie to crack for any new technology company, but patience eventually pays off. Content companies like BrainPop have persisted for more than 16 years and built a very successful business as a result. The counterpoint of schools being hard to penetrate is that once you are in, you will probably be there for many years to come.  

So this is it. We hope all ed-gaming entrepreneurs find these lessons valuable and thought provoking. We could not be happier for having supported so many companies in the space and worked with some of the best talent in the industry. We have had the privilege to work alongside amazing entrepreneurs and their teams who all have tremendous dedication and the continued belief that they will make children’s lives better little by little. Needless to say this has been the most rewarding part of running co.lab.  As Bobby George, founder and CEO of Montessorium said co.lab has proved instrumental to how we think about growing Montessorium. The insights we learned there, are ones that will carry over everywhere”. We hope that their 4-month long co.lab experience represents a major milestone in all of co.lab companies’ histories.

I am personally thankful to Zynga.org, NewSchools Venture Fund, and more recently the team at Reach Capital for their amazing support of the program. I am also grateful for the dozens of industry experts that have come to mentor our cohort companies alongside some of the best Zynga employees. Thanks to all of you for your time and dedication.

From now on I look forward to continuing to support companies in this space as a Partner at Reach Capital and hope to see all the 29 alumni and everyone else who we’ve been in touch with, grow and prosper!

On behalf of Deena, myself and the entire co.lab team thanks and good luck!

Esteban Sosnik


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Company Spotlight: Immplay

What is your company’s mission?

Our mission is to use cutting edge technology such as augmented and virtual reality to engage kids with entertaining applications of science and technology, as well as other age-appropriate learning.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

When products are entertaining and have great depth, we can teach without kids realizing. With Aremi: The Magic of Gaia, for example, they do math and science by researching and combining the ingredients, which is really fun but they are learning without even noticing! Snow & Stella teaches kids colors, numbers, music and the alphabet. And Dino Mudi lets kids explore dinosaurs and the prehistoric world in a fun, interactive way.

Our philosophy with all our products is to take the digital gaming experience and combine it with an engaging product, in order to empower physical and creative play.

What is a challenge your company has faced and how did you solve it?

The biggest challenge we faced was one that a lot of tech companies face: how to deliver the best possible app for our target audience. We received great direction from our co.lab mentors in areas such as marketing strategy, game design and customer acquisition. In addition, we’re using an Indiegogo campaign to acquire early adopters who will become elite product testers within our community.

What have you gotten out of the co.lab experience?

co.lab has been invaluable to us! We’ve received great mentorship and really appreciate being able to learn from other co.lab companies facing similar issues. We’ve also benefited from co.lab’s connections and insights into investment opportunities.

What advice would you give to future companies about developing for K-12 ed-tech?

The most important advice is to focus on developing a product that addresses a real need inside the classroom and/or helps kids and parents at home. An engaging product is the best way to promote studying and creative learning.

Next, make sure you’re realistic and focused on your target audience and product offering. Don’t try to be everything to all people!

Learn more about Immersive Play!

Immplay Website


On April 26 Immplay announced the release of Aremi: The Magic of Gaia, the world’s first augmented reality (AR) magic cauldron and spell-casting wands. Using the free app, social media and the Aremi cauldron and wands, users can cast spells and create potions via tablets and smartphones that allow them to completely customize their own experience. As an ultimate achievement, players can even conjure a dragon, take a selfie with the dragon and send the image to family and friends!
Global distribution begins in 2017, but our Indiegogo campaign allows select families to receive the magic cauldron for Holiday 2016. These early users will also form the start of our community of kids, families and magic enthusiasts who will create potions/spells that will be available content for the global offering in 2017.

TYKtW Day Immplay Aremi

TYKtW Day Immplay DinoMundi Table

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Company Spotlight: WriteLab

Throughout the co.lab program, we showcase our companies by interviewing and highlighting their successes and challenges.  In order to build a sense of community around our entrepreneurs, we’d like to focus this series of blogposts for cohort 5 on identifying  problems they’ve had in their  journey as a start up and sharing their approaches to solving them.  By sharing their experiences and challenges in building a company and an educational product, we hope to create new ways to inspire our entrepreneur community.

What is your company’s mission and goals? (Why did you start your company?)

We founded our company to empower all students to write with confidence.

In the typical classroom, students don’t receive the feedback they need to substantively improve their writing. By the time their instructors have reviewed and commented on their work, students are already thinking about their next assignments, and they’re no longer interested in how they can improve their old essays. As a result, students continue to write poorly, improving little if at all during the semester. We built WriteLab to solve this problem.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

WriteLab gives instant, actionable, and specific feedback on any piece of writing. We use natural language processing to analyze student writing, suggesting revisions and asking questions to help students improve their clarity, concision, logic, and grammar. We also highlight what students do well. When students see what they’ve done well, they repeat those effective techniques. Our platform helps students learn as they write, coaching them through the writing process and helping them evaluate their decisions. For the first time, writers can get instant, substantive feedback on their work.

What is a challenge your company has faced and how did you solve it?

As we created WriteLab, we aimed to build an end-to-end writing solution. We wanted to guide students from the seeds of an idea to a first draft to a polished and publishable paper. We were excited to dive into building a new writing platform, and we took on several parallel projects. We found ourselves working on too many tasks at once, and we didn’t get any quite right.
We took a step back and asked ourselves what our core value was. We then made sure that we could do these tasks better than anyone else, and that our work would add to a student’s classroom experience.

What have you gotten out of the co.lab experience?

co.lab’s mentors have helped us ask ourselves the right questions. Through co.lab we created a roadmap to product-market fit. We also worked with mentors to improve our core user experience by focusing on our technology. co.lab’s mentors pushed us to consider how we stand out in the crowded marketplace of writing tools, and they helped us see that we can succeed by improving our language parsing algorithms, and therefore our user experience.

co.lab also helped us connect to employees at other edtech companies, who worked with us to improve our design and the experience for first time users.

What advice would you give to future companies about developing for K-12 Ed-Tech?

Take the time to reflect on what matters most to your founders and other stakeholders. Align your work with your core beliefs and your team’s strengths.

Learn more about WriteLab!

WriteLab Site

WriteLab Blog 

WriteLab Facebook Page

WriteLab Twitter

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co.lab Announces Cohort #5!

co.lab is delighted to announce the launch of our 5th cohort on Monday March 7, 2016. In the almost 3 years that co.lab has been operating, we have supported 29 educational games startups across a wide range of subject areas including math, STEM, literacy and 21st century skills such as coding, creativity, problem-solving and design thinking.  Our companies have a collective reach of $3 million monthly active users, including teachers, parents, and students, and have raised more than $45M in capital, with $17M raised in past 6 months alone!  

At co.lab we believe that high-quality digital educational experiences hold the promise of driving student achievement, engagement, offer opportunities for collaborative interactions, and unlocking new ways to assess learning. co.lab is addressing these issues by supporting a diverse community of entrepreneurs who are working together to develop and distribute high-quality educational content that builds upon emerging knowledge and best practices from across the games-based learning ecosystem.  

We bring together the resources of our partners; Zynga.org’s access to the best talent and resources in commercial games and Reach Capital’s investment and edTech industry expertise to provide our companies to provide a hands-on mentorship approach.  We customize the experience of each company depending on their specific needs for each area of support.  This year we’ve redesigned some of the key components of the program including an even stronger focus on product support and expanding our Educator – in – Residence program.  

Most importantly, the program has received great accolades from our alumni and the industry.  “Being part of co.lab has been incredible for Nearpod. Deena and Esteban are very committed to helping the companies succeed and they put a lot of effort into providing resources and support to make that possible. Through co.lab companies can get help with everything from business model help to how to navigate the complex privacy laws to how to best design a user’s first time experience. We look forward to giving back to the program by welcoming, mentoring and sharing our experiences with the new cohort members!” says Guido Kovalskys, Founder and CEO of Nearpod and cohort #4 alumnus.

Cohort #5 comprises of an incredibly talented group of entrepreneurs with products ranging from PreK all the way through high school, college and beyond.  co.lab welcomes representatives from around the world including Brazil, Chile, Canada, and both East and West Coasts of the US.

Immplay ImmPlay is setting out to prove that you can build a successful global business out of fun and games! Immplay has a global presence in over 20 countries with the creation and development of high-quality and high-tech toys for children.

Junior Explorers –  Junior Explorers an edtech company teaches kids about wildlife and nature through award winning fun, interactive learning experiences.

Kindoma – Kindoma is a video calling and messaging app specifically designed for young children and their loved ones – think Skype for kids with added interactivity, such as reading, drawing, or playing games.

Lab4U -Lab4U develops technologies using built-in smartphones sensors as science instruments, giving everyone the opportunity to have a Lab In Their Pockets.  Lab4U is a 2nd time participant of co.lab and we are excited to continue the work they started with us in cohort #4.  “We decided to return to co.lab in order to get to the next level, especially around product where Zynga mentors are a great asset,” says Komal Dadlani, CEO and Co-Founder of Lab4U.

WriteLab –  WriteLab is the world’s most advanced writing platform. WriteLab’s algorithms analyze your writing and generate comments to help you draft, revise, and polish your writing. Upload a document, copy-and-paste, or type directly into the WriteLab editor. WriteLab will respond to your writing in a matter of seconds.

Additionally, we are excited to support School of Games, as a co.lab “guest startup” in cohort #5.  School of Games was founded by a Zynga veteran, Anshul Dhawan along with his wife Arjita Sethi.  School of Games has the vision of giving quality education to every child in the world and is producing a product that uses speech recognition to help narrow the “word gap”.  Anshul was inspired by his participation in co.lab as a mentor since the start of the program to venture into the EdTech industry as a way to bring about a change in the world.  We are excited to have School of Games join the co.lab family for cohort #5.  

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Company Spotlight: Lab4U

Throughout the co.lab program, we showcase our companies by interviewing and highlighting their successes and challenges.  In order to build a sense of community around our entrepreneurs, we’d like to focus this series of blogposts for cohort 4 on identifying  problems they’ve had in their  journey as a start up and sharing their approaches to solving them.  By sharing their experiences and challenges in building a company and an educational product, we hope to create new ways to inspire our entrepreneur community.

What is your company’s mission?

We believe that everyone learns best by doing.  However growing up, we struggled with this concept in our own science education. We want to change that for future students.  At Lab4U we are giving students the opportunity to learn by doing by transforming mobile devices into scientific instruments to improve science education. Our mission is to improve science education by changing the way science is taught and how scientific experiments are performed by delivering low cost and engaging solutions for science education around the world.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Lab4U improves science education by democratizing the lab experience at schools, through the delivery of low-cost solutions. We develop technologies using built-in smartphones sensors as science instruments, giving everyone the opportunity to have a complete lab in their pockets.

We are helping students learn in a new way by giving them the opportunity to experiment and explore science by themselves. We believe science education should spark student’s curiosity by allowing them to measure, calculate and analyze in real time. We help students explore science as a true adventure.

What is a challenge your company has faced and how did you solve it?

As a Start-up and as  young entrepreneurs, one of the most difficult challenges has been to build a good team.  Choosing the correct people has been truly challenging. To solve this big problem, we asked for advice and we pushed ourselves to learn fast.  We failed, but have always tried to fail forward.

Honestly, we hear lots of people criticizing our mission and our products. We have learned to trust our gut, choose our advisors and defend our beliefs. We also had to learn how to speak up for those beliefs, how to make others see what we were seeing, and how to communicate our vision.

What have you gotten out of the co.lab experience?

As an early-stage company, we value knowledge, experience and mentoring. Those were the key aspects of our co.lab experience.  The access to expertise and resources co.lab offered us was truly invaluable.

What advice would you give to future companies about developing for K-12 Ed-Tech?

The only advice I would give is: ask for help, learn fast, listen to others and to your gut.

Learn more about Lab4U!



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Company Spotlight: codeSpark

What is your company’s mission and goals? 

Our mission is to provide computer science education for all kids, everywhere. We aspire to be the global standard for introducing young kids (5+) to computer science and coding.  

I was originally inspired by my daughter Naomi.  She took a LEGO robotics class in 1st grade and was the only girl and youngest kid by two grades.  I went looking for what I assumed existed – tools to teach her the “ABC’s of computer science” and found very little.  My co-founder Joe joined me because he’d been thinking about better ways to teach computer science for over a decade and had always wanted to try teaching via a top notch game.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Our product doesn’t use words.  Our 100% visual coding system allows non-readers and non-English speakers to play.  Also, we start students with structured challenges and then gently introduce them to our creative sandbox.  There is no “blank page” challenge until a player shows mastery of many small creative challenges.  

It’s an approach that has worked for decades for LEGO.  First you build what’s on the box, then you tinker and then finally, when you are ready and confident, you create things from scratch.

What is a challenge your company has faced and how did you solve it?

Most learning games are not fun.  Our first challenge was creating a learning game that not only teaches coding but is also something kids want to do!

Our solution was to look at popular game mechanics that have high engagement like Angry Birds and Super Mario Bros.  Then we focused the design on our target age group (5-9) and engaged in non-stop user testing.  After that, we built paper prototypes and learned which mechanics were universally loved and what we could and couldn’t do with our “no words” interface.  Then, we built digital prototypes based on those findings and tested weekly with our core age group.  

What have you gotten out of the co.lab experience?

We met interesting EdTech investors, entrepreneurs and innovators  at co.lab.  We also connected with top researchers and knowledgeable Zynga execs who were able to provide solid tactical and strategic advice. Most importantly, we got tons of great feedback and data on how to avoid common mistakes in games and edtech.  We benefited from lessons learned by other  companies in the same space and believe those lessons give us a meaningfully better chance to be successful.

What advice would you give to future companies about developing for K-12 ed-tech?

Put the teachers and the kids first.  It’s hard to get out and talk to them but you MUST.  You must observe how learning really happens in order to impact it.

Learn more about codeSpark!

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Company Spotlight: Pixel Press

What is your company’s mission?

When we started Pixel Press, we were inspired by both the imaginative power of the video games we grew up with and the development of creative tools that helped us tell our own stories, which vastly improved throughout high school, college and eventually into our careers.

As adults, now many of us with kids, we wanted to continue that trend, making it easier to create and share content and to develop those skills and mindsets at an earlier age. Our mission is to make games for the whole brain by merging physical and digital worlds, to develop boundless experiences that empower people of all ages to create, share and play.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Kids universally love toys and video games, but parents and teachers don’t always see the value in these experiences.  Our products get kids building, thinking, sharing and growing through a unique combination of hands-on, brains-on activities that leverage a mix of off-screen and on-screen activity.

Our latest product, Bloxels, set for release this holiday season, starts the video game creating process with physical colored blocks. Players are challenged to put down their screen and think strategically. Each block has many possibilities and eventually becomes part of an on-screen experience that combines design, logic and experimentation – manifesting itself as story built around a video game that can be played and shared with others.

What is a challenge your company has faced and how did you solve it?

The physical to digital space is relatively new and there are a lot of challenges with the experience that can only be solved through trial and error. We’re constantly monitoring how our players are using our products and incorporating that feedback into the next generations of our experience. What has been the most challenging is evaluating the integration of physical and digital components. For example, we can’t rely heavily on data driven screen tracking, as it doesn’t tell the complete story. We find we have to spend more time observing our product in action and learn by getting out there and watching how kids interact with our product in real-time.

What have you gotten  out of the co.lab experience?

Co.lab has been an incredible ambassador to our company – which is based not in the Bay Area – but in St. Louis. We’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people during the program, such as Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Club Penguin (sold to Disney in 2007) and currently the  CEO of Fresh Grade. Lane gave us the opportunity to learn from his experiences building a platform not entirely different than what we are building, and has provided an open door to leveraging his expertise the future.

These types of relationships, along with those that we’re able to cultivate by just being in the Bay Area on a regular basis, have been a huge asset to our company.

What advice would you give to future companies about developing for K-12 ed-tech?

As with most companies, it’s important to focus on solving problems. However, many of us on the entertainment side crossing into education have never been a part of this business outside of being a former “customer” ourselves. As a result, it’s easy to form invalidated opinions on the problems and potential solutions.

Spend as much time as possible learning the problems from those working in education and only state you are providing a solution when you have their validation. True to the concept of education, we’re constantly improving this process ourselves.

Learn more about Pixel Press!



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Company Spotlight: StoryToys





What is your company’s product?

StoryToys is a developer and publisher of a portfolio of educational and entertainment apps for kids. We create original content, and content based on much loved characters such as Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Sesame Street’s Elmo.

What is your company’s mission?

One of the original goals we set was to “fix” ebooks for kids. So often the tactility and substance of the real book is lost in the translation from paper to screen, reducing the book experience to something flat with limited interactivity.

We set about creating products that were simultaneously familiar and trustworthy to parents, but new and exciting for children. Aidan and Kevin, our co-founders’ goal was to create the world’s first “digital” pop-up book. They did so with Grimm’s Rapunzel, and the response to this was incredible. Parent’s loved the fact that the app looked and felt like a “real” book, and kids loved that the “book” felt like a game. We discovered that our success would lie in carefully balancing the needs of the parent (the customer), and the child (the consumer).

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

We design our products primarily as entertainment products, but ensure that they have a strong pedagogy underpinning them. This ensures a high level of engagement. Kids don’t really see them as learning tools, but fun stories and games. This has resulted in play session rates that run 4-5 times longer than benchmark interactive books.  Our Farm 123 title, which was our first “Original IP”, and remains one of our all-time best-sellers is a great example of this.

What is a challenge your company has faced and how did you solve it?

We are constantly evolving our business in line with the market. By 2012 it had become clear to us that the App Store had become oversaturated with interactive book titles based on “classic” IP. Discovery became a real challenge for us, and we were seeing diminishing returns from successive product launches, and marketing initiatives were not delivering results. We determined we needed differentiated products, but could not afford to take the risk of switching to entirely original products. So we set about identifying key third party brands that we would like to license, and integrate into StoryToys products. We knew that if we did so, we would benefit from organic discovery online and in the App Store, and our thesis was that a licensing programme would not only deliver strong sales to the licensed products, but would also lift our other products if we integrated a cross-promotional framework. This turned out to be correct. We now run a careful balance of licensed product development and original content, and our sales ratio is about 70% original content.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

co.lab for us has many benefits, from being co-located with a great group of companies, to the knowledge gained from the co.lab team and the guest office hours. One of the key benefits has been access to mentorship within the broader Zynga organization. Last year we embarked upon the development of a major new product which we hope will ultimately become the primary focus for the company. We’ve invested everything we know about making kids products into this, but we’ve had knowledge gaps, due to the fact that our monetization model for this new product differs significantly from our previous products. Our Zynga mentors have helped us figure out these gaps, and we’ve been able to apply a wealth of Zynga learnings to our new product.

What advice would you give to future companies about developing for K-12 ed-tech?

I can’t speak specifically to the later grades here or to companies selling school-targeted products, as we focus on consumer sales. For companies looking at the app market, I would note the competitive nature of the Pre-K to K3 category, and advise every company to deeply research every corner of the app store before committing to a specific idea or theme. I would then spend a lot of time on the product depth, visual and interaction design of the product. There are many tremendously sophisticated apps available for this category and standing out will come down to flawless execution.

Learn More about StoryToys!

StoryToys Showreel
StoryToys on the App Store
StoryToys on Google Play
StoryToys on YouTube

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Company Spotlight: Nearpod



What is your company’s product?

Nearpod is a learning platform that has been specifically designed for the use of mobile devices in the classroom.

What is your company’s mission?

Our mission is to empower educators to create learning experiences that engage and inspire millions of students around the world. Our product aims to magnify the teacher’s craft as a facilitator, instructor and lecturer by enhancing their live instruction with mobile devices.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Using Nearpod, teachers easily create engaging interactive presentations and insert a variety of real-time assessment tools. During class, they launch a Nearpod Presentation and guide their students as they use their tablet, smartphone, or other web enabled device to have an interactive learning experience. With a combination of self-paced and instructor-led activities, students can navigate teacher-curated content, collaborate by sharing one another’s work, compose short essays and participate in multiple types of formative assessments. As a result, student engagement levels rise significantly and teachers can assess understanding in real time, which ultimately leads to improved learning outcomes.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

Our priorities for co.lab are to use the principles of design thinking around the following challenge:  ”How can the principles of gamification improve the teacher’s experience using nearpod? Our aim is to rapidly prototype different versions of our key findings throughout the course of our time at co.lab. We plan to leverage the gaming expertise in the co.lab community (cohort members, Zynga employees, broader gaming community) to achieve this goal.

What is a challenge your company has faced and how did you solve it?

Nearpod was originally founded in Miami in 2012, and the transition from being a tech upstart in south Florida to a fully-fledged Silicon Valley startup proved to be our formative challenge. On the one hand, bootstrapping the company in Miami allowed us to connect with local schools to advance our product and develop an early revenue stream–a rare step for startups, which are typically concerned with growth over revenue. At the same time, we had little-to-no access to Venture Capital funds, a connection that is helpful not just for the financial resources they offer, but also for the mentorship and shared expertise.

While Nearpod didn’t have early access to Silicon Valley Venture Capital, we did have access to teachers and classrooms in Miami who provided us rich insights about how to develop and improve the product. In the early stages of development, we iterated and tested Nearpod with teachers many times over until we had a solid, classroom-ready product. Investors would express skepticism towards our ability to build a business around teachers and school. So we tested various pricing strategies with teachers and schools until we got to a model that worked: we converted free teacher users into paid school contracts.

While VCs were wary of working with schools, we came armed with proof that our go-to-market strategy was successful in Miami. Still, we had to be persistent.  After pitching New Schools Venture Fund for a third time, we were able to show them the potential of our product and they finally agreed to make a seed investment in Nearpod.  That ended up opening  up a world of opportunities, including a fellowship at Stanford, access to expertise, and to a greater network of advisors who helped us accelerate our growth.

What advice would you give to future companies about developing for K-12 ed-tech?

  1. Get inside schools. Teachers, students and parents work together in a unique ecosystem.  Without a fine understanding of that ecosystem, your product will likely fail to live to its potential. Knowing your user is not just good product design; it will lead to  insights that will improve your venture and can improve K-12 education beyond that.
  2. Experiment monetization and go-to-market models early.   Don’t wait until you feel you have complete product-market fit or massive traction to explore monetization strategies. Do that early on.  Get to your first 10 schools and/or 1k teachers or parents early, and nurture them to ensure they are extremely successful using your product.  Those early users will be your best allies.

Find out more about Nearpod!

Nearpod Launches Partnership with Common Sense Media

Blogpost on Why Nearpod Chose Reach Capital

Teachers Talk about Why They Love Nearpod


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Learning Games to help stop the Summer Slide!

“Summer slide,” “brain drain,” “learning loss,” are all ways of describing what happens to your children’s minds over the summer months when they are not continually engaged and stimulated.   Research spanning over 10 years shows that kids score lower on the same standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do at the beginning of the summer.  During the summer months, your kids may ask for more screen time than normal. Most parents are concerned about their children’s screen time, but if you set consistent limits, are involved in choosing age-appropriate content, stay involved in their screen time by co-viewing and co-playing and reflect on the experience together, screen time can be beneficial and help extend the learning for your child. Digital games are a great way to keep your child’s mind actively engaged and learning.  Games naturally build comprehension, literacy, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  As we are half-way through the summer, here are our picks of great apps and online games from the co.lab portfolio and beyond that will keep your kids learning through the summer and stop that summer slide from happening!

Pre K (3-4 Years)



My Very Hungry Caterpillar
Platform:iOS, Android,windows

StoryToys Entertainment has a wonderful suite of interactive digital storybooks and game apps.  In My Very Hungry Caterpillar, players help the Hungry Caterpillar find food and grow.  Players scroll left and right to explore the world and can touch on fruit to feed the caterpillar and other objects keep him happy.  There are food and happiness meters at the top of the screen that show your progress.  The Caterpillar eventually turns into a beautiful butterfly (after 5 days of play) and the cycle starts all over again.  This app is magnificently animated and will surely keep your little ones engaged and learning about the metamorphosis process.

intro to lettersIntro to Math screen520x924

Intro to Letters and Intro to Math
Developer: Montessorium
Platform: iOS-Letters, iOS-Math

These two great apps from Montessorium teach your early learner how to read, write and understand letters and numbers.  The apps provide simple, intuitive interfaces for kids to trace letters and numbers, hear  letter names and sounds spoken, and record and listen to the letters and numbers they recite.  All of Montessorium’s apps are based on the methodology of Montessori and allow kids to move learn at their own pace.


Kiko’s Thinking Time
Developer: Kiko Labs
Platform: iOS

Kiko’s Thinking Time from Kiko Labs engages children ages 3-6 with a series of mini-brain training games that help improve their cognitive skills like memory, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, focus and spatial skills.  Kids help Kiko on her quest for treasures and meet other animals along the way in her village.  The game includes a motivating reward system and a parent dashboard that keeps parents updated on how their child is progressing through the app.  Kiko’s Thinking Time was designed with Harvard and UC Berkeley neuroscientists, with support from the US Department of Education, and it was created with one goal in mind – to help children succeed and prepare for school where executive functioning and reasoning skills are critical for success.

K-2nd (5-8 years)



Endless Spanish
Developer: Originator
Platform: iOS

Endless Spanish is a fantastic follow up to the great hits from Originator including Endless Alphabet, Endless Reader, Endless Numbers and Endless WordPlay.  Endless Spanish introduces children to frequently used Spanish words by allowing kids to build the word and then putting it into context in a sentence.  The adorable endless monsters provide the fun for this engaging learning experience.


The Foos
Developer: codespark
Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle, Safari and Firefox

The Foos is a great way to introduce your child at an early age to the ABC’s of computer science through a combination of structured challenges and open-ended play. The “no words” interface makes this game accessible for kids as young as 4 years old in over 150 countries to play. Your child is guided through multiple levels and worlds with an adorable set of characters (The Foos) by creating a sequence of actions; for example, move once to the right and then jump to catch a star.  These sequences are created by dragging and dropping the picture blocks from the bottom into your desired order.   With each sequence, your child is not only learning about sequencing, loops, and conditional statements, but also developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and perseverance — all 21st century skills our children need today.

todo_screen640x640Todo Math
Developer: Locomotive Labs
Platform: iOS

Todo Math offers 3 ways for children to practice their Math skills, including 1). a guided “mission-based” path, 2). free choice where the child can choose any activity in any order and 3). play-based monster quizzes.  Games include practice with counting and cardinality, number operations, mathematical reasoning and time and money.  With 600+ activities and games  all aligned to Pre-K-2nd math standards and activities, Todo Math will keep your child engaged and having fun while they learn key Math concepts and skills.

brainzy2Brainzy and Book Builder
Developer: education.com
Platform: Online, iOS

From education.com, Brainzy is a comprehensive online learning program that covers reading and math skills for kids ages 3-7 years old.  The program includes 50 songs and videos, 50 ebooks and 300 games that provide a fun and engaging learning experience for your child. Brainzy can be played on a browser on your computer or tablet but they also offer an app called  Book Builder  that is a wonderful choose your own adventure style reading experience.

TYMTR_imageTeach Your Monster How to Read
Developer: Usborne Foundation
Platform: iOS

Aimed at 3-6 year olds, Teach Your Monster How to Read teaches your child how to read by offering mini-games in a cute, colorful, monster world.  Kids start by creating their own monster which personalizes the experience and gives the player a sense of ownership.  The monster blasts into space and then crashes.  Kids can play 8 mini-games to help get their monster fix his spaceship.

2nd-5th (7-10 years)

introtoUSIntro to United States
Developer: Motessorium
Platform: iOS

Like the other suite of apps from Motessorium, Intro to United States is based on the Montessori method.  Kids learn names, shapes, location, and the animals of each state through a variety of game play including shape identification and matching, labeling and tracing. The content is scaffolded so the child gets level-appropriate practice.

Developer: Kizoom
Platform: iOS

Brainventures is the newest app from Kizoom that focuses on teaching kids that they have the power to make their brains grow and become stronger!  Through a series of mini-games, kids practice skills like pattern recognition and hand-eye coordination through fun and engaging activities.  Designed by neuroscientists, Brainventures is inspired by research on the growth mindset which shows that when kids understand they have the ability to make their brains stronger, they perform better in school and become more successful in life.  Let your child train their brain with Brainventures!


Motion Math: Cupcake
Developer: Motion Math
Platform: iOS

Motion Math offers a suite of apps that span ages 4-10 and cover anything from number lines to fractions, decimals and percentages.   These Math apps don’t just drill and kill but teach conceptual knowledge focusing on the process of reaching an answer rather than the answer itself.  In Motion Math: Cupcake, kids run a cupcake delivery business and learn about word problems, proportions, mental math and the coordinate system by buying ingredients, designing cupcakes, setting prices and delivering to customers.  In addition to fun play patterns, players can adjust difficulty levels and there is a detailed teacher and parent dashboard so you can keep track of your kids as they progress in the games.

Developer: Codemonkey
Platform: Online

CodeMonkey is an online game for children ages 9 and up to learn coding. The game teaches coding through step-by-step tutorials within a number of levels.  What sets codemonkey apart is that children write actual code to solve puzzles.  The cute set of characters lend to a delightful and fun experience.


Math Breakers
Platform:Online Download Mac, Windows, Linux

Mathbreakers is an online downloadable 3D Math game in which students learn fractions, integers and negative numbers in a virtual world.  Kids can also use the video game and level editor to build and share their own math puzzles, games and monsters.

5th-8th (10-14 years)


Pixel Press: Floors
Developer: Pixel Press
Platform: iOS

Floors is a unique app that allows kids to become video game designers.  What’s unique about Floors is that players use a pencil and graph paper to draw their game levels.  Then, they take a picture of their game and their creation is turned into a digital video game.  The game can be fleshed out by adding characters, power ups and other details.   You can also play other kids creations, so there is a whole community of designers and players!

the.sandbox-pixowlPixowl’s The Sandbox
Developer: Pixowl
Platform: iOS

In Pixowl’s The Sandbox, you get to play god by creating worlds with all the elements (water, soil and stones) at your disposal to make rain and electricity, grow plants, or raise mountains.  You can earn mana, your currency, by completing challenges and earning achievements along the way.  Build and create your universe  through 300 levels and over 200 elements or completely destroy it through with Sandbox!


Mars Generation One
Developer: GlassLabGames
Platform: iOS

From GlassLab Games in collaboration with NASA, Mars Generation One is an immersive gaming experience that not only focuses on literacy and STEM skills but also  helps develop key 21st century skills like persuasion, reasoning and leadership skills.  Players are students of Argubot Academy and are asked to make important decisions to build their community on Mars by building arguments for every choice they make.

WT_GameBanner_940x300-600x191Brainquake: Wuzzit Trouble
Developer: Brainquake
Platform: iOS, Android

Wuzzit Trouble is a great puzzle game for all ages that focuses on mathematical conceptual thinking.  Players rotate cogs of a wheel to help release the cute Wuzzits and earn stars.  As the levels progress, additional variables are added to encourage more abstract problem solving. The starring system allows any player to progress through the system, but more advanced players are rewarded with more stars.  While many learning games mask learning with the fun of the gameplay, in Wuzzit Trouble, the game IS the learning.

Developer: Microsoft
Platform: Online, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, Playstation 3

You’ve heard the hype, but what’s it all about?  Why are so many middle schoolers obsessed with Minecraft?  The game and phenomena around Minecraft can be difficult for parents to understand.  Minecraft is like building something with legos, but then taking an adventure inside that world through jungles, oceans, deserts – all while being chased by monsters!  Minecraft is a super creative tool that allows players to build and destroy.  Kids are in control of their worlds and can build their own safe spaces, exploring at their own pace and risk threshold levels.   Completing challenges is rewarded with the presentation of new challenges which provides for endless replayability.  Minecraft offers kids a place to express themselves while sharing and learning from others through the extensive online community.  And if you’re concerned about the educational value,  Minecraft is great for learning! It teaches concepts like logic, focus and perseverance, problem solving, goal-setting, science, economics and literacy, and encourages kids to be creative and curious.


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Announcing colab’s fourth cohort: leveraging the power of games in education

We are proud to announce the start of co.lab’s fourth cohort. Beginning in early June, six new companies will come to co.lab, joining the 19 educational gaming startups that comprised the first three cohorts, companies that together have reached a total of more than 25M students worldwide. co.lab’s fourth cohort, selected from among a high number of high-quality applicants, reflects the growing diversity and momentum of the learning games marketplace.

Since colab opened its doors in the fall of 2013, we have seen an increasing number of entrepreneurs capitalizing on the potential of games for educational applications targeted at PK-12 students. The discussion of the industry at large has evolved from the “why” games-based learning is effective (summarized in the infographic below), to “how” we can help these companies succeed in getting the best products in front of the greatest number of children for maximizing impact.

We are thrilled that co.lab has been able to play a fundamental role in this dialogue, as we are laser-focused on helping some of the most accomplished companies in this space get to scale, through increased user engagement and classroom use. In addition, with help from business and product advisors from Zynga and the ed tech investor community, we have also been helping co.lab members grow as companies, by working with them on revenue models, marketing, distribution and financing. We have seen measurable progress across our previous cohorts, including recent financing rounds by Locomotive Labs, an SBIR Phase II grant award by Kiko Labs, and increasing traction by the overwhelming majority of companies that have come through our program.

It is with great enthusiasm and honor that co.lab welcomes the following promising companies and teams of exceptional entrepreneurs committed to leveraging the power of games to deliver engaging, personalized and effective educational experiences for children

  • Codespark and their product The Foos, builds award-winning games for kids 5+ that ignite curiosity about computer science
  • Lab4U is transforming mobile devices into science instruments to improve science education.
  • LearnFresh is the developer of NBA Math Hoops, a fast-paced basketball board game and mobile app that allows students to learn fundamental math skills through direct engagement with the real statistics of their favorite NBA and WNBA players
  • Nearpod, is a mobile learning platform that is helping teachers reimagine the way they facilitate live instruction using connected devices in the classroom.
  • Pixel Press‘ “build your own video game” platform integrates physical and digital play, adding new dimension to toys and video games, educational content, traditional storybooks and other entertainment mediums.
  • Story Toys develops interactive books and games that combine a great story or fun activities with stunning illustration, beautiful design and the interactivity and engagement of games

In other great news, co.lab is pleased to welcome Deena Minwalla as Director of Programs. Deena is a seasoned Product Manager of K-12 educational games, having worked at LeapFrog, Pearson, Education.com and most recently AltSchool.  Deena will work on supporting co.lab entrepreneurs and helping them to grow their products.  She will also manage co.lab’s educational program and content.

Finally, co.lab is excited to welcome back Evan Rushton, a former math teacher, currently Instructional Designer at GlassLab and graduate of Stanford’s Learning Design and Technology Master’s program, to join cohort #4 as our educator-in-residence.

Stay tuned for more from co.lab and our amazing community of twenty five companies by following  us on twitter and facebook

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MindBlown Labs

Q&A w/ MindBlown Labs: Building financial capability via captivating mobile experiences

MindBlown Labs — founded by Jason Young and Tracy Moore in 2012 — develops Thrive ‘n’ Shine, currently available on iOS and Android.

Why did you create MindBlown Labs?

As a child, Jason saw how financial illiteracy negatively impacted the lives of many of his family members. Those experiences inspired in him a strong desire to ensure that others had the skills necessary to make wise financial decisions. Years later, as he was working with young adults and helping them with their personal finances, Jason realized there were no highly-scalable financial capability tools that were both effective and engaging. This led to the creation of MindBlown Labs, which has a goal of reaching millions of teens and young adults.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

We’re teaching personal finance in a new way. Traditional financial literacy tools emphasize rote memorization of concepts and vocabulary terms. MindBlown Labs, on the other hand, is highly experiential and emphasizes the development of skills. Through our interactive, technology-enabled learning solutions, students learn by doing and develop habits and the mindset to make excellent personal finance decisions. As students play our first product, Thrive ‘n’ Shine, they make thousands of decisions over time, which are similar to the decisions that they will make in real life. This is a drastic departure from the status quo.

Thrive ‘n’ Shine teaches teens and young adults about personal finance.

What have you gotten out of the co.lab experience?

It has been great learning from other companies, in diverse areas from classroom adoption and student engagement to distribution and monetization. Zynga employees have been tremendously helpful in identifying areas that have potential for improvement and also coming up with specific action plans to improve our product. co.lab’s Educator-in-Residence has provided us with much insight regarding the deployment of our product within the classroom. Additionally, the speakers have been incredibly informative and inspiring, helping us to realize new potential avenues for growth and exploration. Finally, the co.lab directors have been very supportive of our growth and excellent mentors.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

MindBlown Labs will become the world’s leading producer of interactive tools and experiences that enable individuals to reach their full potential. We will educate and empower generations of global citizens through the development of financial capability skills. By 2025, we will impact 100 million people worldwide.

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Q&A w/ Montessorium: Democratizing Montessori through mobile technology

Montessorium — founded by Bobby and June George in 2010 — has developed six apps currently available on iPad and iPhone.

Why did you create Montessorium?

We created Montessorium out of necessity. Our ambition was to bring a greater awareness to this seemingly mysterious, alternative approach to education, by showcasing some of the brilliance of the Montessori method. We sought to overcome three primary limitations — affordability, accessibility, and quality — while attempting to jumpstart a conversation centered around the value of early childhood education. Our mission was to inspire parents to visit their local Montessori schools, as we believe Montessori is the only system of learning adequately prepared to address the unique challenges of the twenty-first century.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Empowering children to follow their own interests, working towards personalizing the learning experience, is the work of our life. In traditional education, which is predicated on a teacher-centered model, a teacher instructs a child what, when and how to learn, despite their interests or abilities. As a result, one curriculum is taught to everyone, often with a system of rewards and punishments, and a standard of measurement that is not individualized.

At Montessorium, we take the opposite approach – everything is based on the child. Our ambition is to help children develop independence and confidence, and a willingness to engage with the world. To ask the tough questions. We believe that every child learns differently and at their own pace. A child that explores and completes tasks on their own, measuring their own successes and failures, will develop the confidence that thinking demands. They will create a love of learning. As we like to say, the greatest lessons in life are those that we learn ourselves.

Montessorium’s Alpha Writer helps children learn how to read, write and spell phonetically.

What do you like about the co.lab experience?

Originally from South Dakota, where Montessorium is currently headquartered alongside Baan Dek, we often feel as if we’re operating on an island, or perhaps more appropriately, a frontier. Of course, there are advantages to trying to pioneer, but having the opportunity to learn best practices, with amazing mentors, advisors and collaborators, has been a tremendous, memorable experience. Engaging with likeminded individuals and institutions that are passionate about similar challenges, provides an especially rich and fertile environment in which to try to take things one step further.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

The romantic version, the one we tell ourselves late at night, is to democratize Montessori, to take the insights of a 100-year old way of learning, and apply them to a new generation. Essentially, we think of it as trying to correct an injustice in the world, by offering children something that we never had. Namely, a system of learning that is predicated on the individual, personal interests of each and every student. For us, children are born explorers, and the joy of learning is something that doesn’t need to be taught, only discovered. To achieve our long term vision, we would like to see a new type of community continue to arise, one that takes children seriously, and takes their interests to heart. Maybe it will be started by one of our students.

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Q&A w/ Kizoom: Inspiring students to become confident, curious and effective learners

Kizoom — makers of Brain Jump and The Adventures of Ned the Neuron — was founded by Erica Warp in 2012. The team is currently working on a new app to be released in 2015.

Why did you create Kizoom?

EW: Kizoom was founded to teach kids about the brain. Our team has been tremendously inspired by research on growth mindset showing that kids who understand the malleable nature of the brain are more confident, curious and effective learners. We believe that in order to succeed, the next generation will need these personal qualities to be life-long learners and adapt in this quickly changing world. While doing my PhD in neuroscience, I was involved in outreach events teaching the public about the brain. I was shocked to learn that, despite its importance, most kids are not learning about the brain; it is not part of the school curriculum and there is a dearth of informal educational tools on this subject. This is a missed opportunity to improve learning overall and especially for children who start in a disadvantaged position and have internalized a negative definition of their intelligence and abilities. We want to change this.

I have a background in visual art and grew up with The Muppets and Sesame Street. To make the science of the brain accessible and fun, our team developed a world of quirky brain cell characters like Ned the Neuron that makes the brain come alive for elementary aged children. Through stories and games, our goal is to entertain kids while teaching them valuable concepts from neuroscience and psychology research on how we can grow and strengthen our own minds.

Kizoom's Think Tank
In Kizoom’s Brain Jump, students practice critical skills like short-term memory and pattern recognition.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

EW: Operating at the core of our company is our belief that education begins within. Our educational goal is not to teach children a specific subject or tell them how to behave, but to let kids in on a powerful fact: that they have the ability to make their brain stronger every day. Taking on challenges, exploring new things, eating healthy, and exercising are some of the many ways kids can make their brains and themselves stronger. We hope that by removing the mysterious perception of the brain and familiarizing kids with how the brain works, we are creating a platform from which parents and teachers can discuss brain-friendly habits with students.

What do you like about the co.lab experience?

EW: We were fortunate to recently receive a grant from the National Institute of Health to create a game that teaches elementary aged children about the brain. While at co.lab, we have had the opportunity to work with top-notch advisors in creative direction, education, and product management that have helped us take our product to the next level. We have also made valuable connections in the edtech community and learned so much from the other teams in the cohort. Everyone involved in co.lab truly believes in the power of educational games. It has been amazing to be around such innovation and commitment.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

EW: Our goal is to continue to create great products for kids about growth mindset and the brain as well as to be evangelists for the importance of brain awareness in childhood education. We are continually motivated by stories we hear from parents and teachers on how learning about the brain has improved outcomes or outlook for their children. We look forward to building a strong brand that students, parents and teachers love and that helps kids succeed long after they log out.

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Q&A w/ Econauts: A real time strategy game engine for ecological thinking

Econauts is being developed by the Learning Games Network (LGN).

Why did you create Econauts?

Econauts was developed to be “a real time strategy (RTS) game engine for ecological thinking.” Funded by the National Science Foundation, Econauts is grounded in over a decade of research on strategy and ecological science games. Unlike other simulations in this domain (which have been used to teach similar concepts), Econauts uses characters and narrative to engage students. Built working closely with some of the world’s leading ecologists, Econauts leverages the fact that RTS games are about strategic resource management, and at its core, ecology can be taught as the flow of resources across systems. Underlying Econauts is a generalizable architecture for any RTS game in this domain, which makes both the rapid development and deployment of scenarios (including teacher and student authored scenarios) relatively easy to achieve.

The current version of Econauts is designed to teach core concepts of lake ecology and more generalizable concepts such as distal drivers and feedback loops. As a game in which players compete for resources in real time, Econauts immerses learners in a rich environment, making difficult-to-observe ecological phenomena visible in a living landscape that players explore and examine. The game showcases the relationships between choices that humans make and their ecological consequences, such as how cutting down a tree can cause an algae bloom in a nearby lake. By harvesting natural resources and producing goods, players not only affect the environment around them but also affect each other. The gameplay further emphasizes the development of strategies (also in real time) and the decision-making necessary to decide whether to develop symbiotic relationships with other players or go it alone.

Oh yeah, we made it really fun to play! We strongly believe that learning while having fun will result in more more time on task and result in greater learning.

Econauts will feature synchronous multiplayer gameplay across a range of devices.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Collaborative competition frequently drives learning in commercial games, but has infrequently been used in games for learning. Econauts is unique in that this same collaborative competitive aesthetic also describes the situation of many organisms in regards to their population as they struggle to secure resources and survive. Unlike leveled games that players engage with for extended periods, often by themselves, Econauts is specifically designed for game sessions of a brief duration during which multiple players engage with both the game and one another. At the conclusion of these brief sessions, the educator engages the learners in a manner that allows for both content (subject matter) and procedural learning to take place, both of which are grounded in the Next Generation Science Standards. Moreover, the game’s design allows for repeat play sessions in which the parameters can be changed, allowing the lessons being taught to be experienced immediately.

Another way Econauts helps students learn in a new way is by leveraging LGN’s learning analytics software — Assessment Data Aggregator for Gaming Environments (ADAGE) — which allows Econauts to both log and immediately display game data. Information regarding player choices and consequences is uploaded and stored so that players, educators, and researchers can view real-time visualizations of data in order to evaluate their performance and refine techniques, even in real time.

What have you gotten out of the co.lab experience?

co.lab has provided LGN and our research lab, Games+Learning+Society, an opportunity to engage with perspectives on games and learning from Silicon Valley developers, publishers, and investors, as well as from advisors with specific expertise and experience. We have enjoyed sharing ideas with other members of the cohort, which has led to a strong feeling of being engaged in a community of developers with a common goal of improving edtech outcomes and who freely give their opinions and advice.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

LGN is both an advocate for, and a creator of curriculum — and evidence-based learning games and assessment tools. Building on our network of partners, we envision bringing to market numerous products, some of which will originate in LGN’s studio and some of which will originate at other institutions (for whom LGN will polish and make marketable). In doing so, LGN will not only be a viable publisher of games but also model to the industry the potential success of educational games. Consequently, LGN will advance the field of game-based learning by making available games and assessment tools to learners of all ages as well as their educators and employers.

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Q&A w/ Piper: A hacker toolbox that teaches electronics through Minecraft

Piper is planning to launch its hacker toolbox in early 2015. Stay in touch with the team on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

Why did you start Piper?

We believe that too often the current education system ignores how children prefer to learn and what they enjoying doing in their free time. Kids love video games and interacting with their peers, but the vast majority of schools discourage these things in favor of an outdated model of rote memorization and siloed learning. This cookie cutter approach may be easier to implement, but it doesn’t serve students and eventually turns them off of education. We want to change this by allowing students to discover and apply relevant knowledge through the games they already love to play. The Piper Hacker Toolbox, our flagship product, teaches kids to build electronics and gadgets by playing Minecraft.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

We empower children to build electronics, gadgets and sensors – including a responsive flashlight, an ambient light detector and a sound and light keyboard – all by playing Minecraft. We have been able to modify Minecraft on the Raspberry Pi to detect whether circuits are built correctly, and have structured the software to guide students through the basics until they reach more complex levels. Kids enjoy playing Minecraft in a new way, and for parents and teachers it’s a simple way to teach electronics. Everyone wins.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

co.lab has given us an opportunity to work with some of the best minds in educational technology and game development to improve Piper and make the user experience great. We have also been able to trade ideas and advice with fellow cohort companies, and meet with advisors who share best practices on everything from game design to marketing, distribution and operations.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

We believe that games can be more than simply entertainment. Humans have played games for thousands of years, and have a propensity for achieving goals within a certain framework of rules, often through collaboration with their friends and peers (AKA playing a game). We believe that our instinct for games can be translated into education, and this can serve as a powerful platform to allow children to learn through playing. We believe that the next generation of inventors will be inspired by the games they play, and we want to create tools to allow them to achieve their potential. We plan to continue to expand Piper’s hardware and software offerings to remove barriers to children building and creating with the ubiquitous technology that surrounds us today.

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CodeMonkey Studios

Q&A w/ CodeMonkey Studios: Creating a global community for the next generation of coders

Brothers Jonathan and Ido Schor, and childhood best friend Yishai Pinchover, founded CodeMonkey Studios earlier this year. Their app is currently available via the web and Edmodo.

Why did you start CodeMonkey Studios?

JS: Both my parents are software engineers so I grew up with the first Apple computers, coding since I was 10 after a summer Logo course. At 20 I started programming courses for underprivileged children and discovered there’s a very powerful opportunity here for enabling social mobility. I thought I could create a platform that will make coding the kind of opportunity available to kids everywhere, regardless of how much time or know-how is available from the adults around them.

CodeMonkey Studios
CodeMonkey teaches computer science through real coding.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

JS: CodeMonkey is an online game that on the one hand is both engaging and intuitive, and on the other teaches children to code in a real programming language – from first steps to the most advanced subjects! Kids from all over the world can simply go to our website and start playing right away, without even necessarily being aware they’re at the same time acquiring one of the most important skills of the 21st century.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

JS: CodeMonkey is already being used successfully by thousands of early adopters for free in homes and schools across the globe. Our goal is to improve our product’s readiness for selling to both enterprise and consumer customers at a rate and volume that will sustain our startup.

CodeMonkey Studios
CodeMonkey is available in nine languages.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

JS: We want to provide an online platform and global community where the next generation of coders is born and raised in an engaging, creative and playful environment.

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co.lab welcomes cohort #3

Learning games continue to gain momentum as co.lab announces cohort #3

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – We launched co.lab — the first and only startup accelerator focused on the intersection of games and learning — one year ago. Today, we are excited to introduce the seven companies that will be participating in co.lab’s third cohort, which kicks off this week:

  • CodeMonkey Studios is creating an engaging online game that teaches students real coding, from fundamentals to advanced programming subjects.
  • Econauts, developed by the Learning Games Network, makes difficult-to-observe ecological phenomena visible to explain the relationships between choices that humans make and their environmental consequences.
  • Kizoom makes fun apps that help kids recognize the power of their own brains, build cognitive skills and gain confidence and openness to learning new things.
  • Mathbreakers is a 3D playground for mathematics where numbers come to life.
  • MindBlown Labs creates highly interactive, experiential learning tools to empower young people to make better financial and life decisions.
  • Montessorium creates well-crafted, personalized, self-guided learning experiences, utilizing technology to make Montessori educational approaches more widely accessible.
  • Piper is designing kits that allow students to assemble their own working computers and begin their journey into creating lights, motors, and DIY hardware.

As children’s usage of apps — particularly mobile games — continues to increase, there are new opportunities for edtech startups to support students’ academic and social development. Over half of teachers surveyed use digital games in the classroom at least weekly; many more are beginning to recognize the potential benefits of learning games, especially as tools to engage and empower lower performing students.

During the past year, co.lab has worked closely with 12 leading startups developing games that have collectively reached over 22.5 million users worldwide. These companies have represented a range of subject areas and approaches: early childhood development (Kidaptive, Kiko Labs), mathematics and quantitative reasoning (Motion Math, BrainQuake), literacy and creative expression (Pluto Media, Kid Bunch, Timbuktu Labs), special education (LocoMotive Labs), user-generated content (Pixowl, TinyTap) and platforms for social learning (Edmodo, Edcast).

Based in part on feedback from cohorts #1 and #2, we have designed our program to be tailored to the specific needs of games-based learning startups. Bringing together the resources of our founding partners — NewSchools Venture Fund’s educational and edtech expertise and Zynga.org’s access to best-in-class talent and resources from the world of commercial games — we’re able to invest a unique combination of financial, human and social capital as well as provide strategic and fundraising support. Building on its first year commitment, Zynga.org is also contributing an additional $1 million to support co.lab’s work.

Cohort #3 companies were founded by a talented and diverse set of entrepreneurs including educators, technologists, game developers, school founders, researchers from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the University of California – Berkeley, a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans and even recent college graduates. They are tied together by a willingness to push technological and pedagogical boundaries to expand possibilities for learners’ growth.

We are thrilled to help accelerate these startups’ progress by connecting their founding teams to expertise and best practices from the commercial games industry, feedback from students and educators, and – critically – each other. Working together, we plan to help them optimize their products to support learning in the classroom or at home, with an emphasis on scaling impact while strengthening the games-based learning community.

If you’re interested in following cohort #3’s journey, stay in touch with us on Twitter and Facebook!

* * * * *

About co.lab
co.lab is an accelerator that works with startups using the power of digital games to build transformative educational technologies for PK-12 students and teachers. Our model is built upon a belief in the need for innovation in education, and in games’ potential to enhance learning – by creating virtual sandboxes that encourage experimentation and engagement, offering new opportunities for collaborative interactions, and unlocking new ways to assess cognitive and social growth. Our four-month program is designed to add value to early stage edtech companies while generating knowledge that will help designers, educators, researchers and funders better understand challenges and opportunities related to developing high quality learning games and applications. Learn more at www.playcolab.com.

About NewSchools Venture Fund
NewSchools is a not-for-profit organization committed to transforming public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children — especially those in underserved communities — have the opportunity to succeed. We actively share what we’ve learned through our investments, bring together educational leaders from across the country, and advocate for smart policies at the federal level. Learn more at www.newschools.org.

About Zynga.org
Zynga.org is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to the idea that social games are a platform for social good. Zynga.org works closely with Zynga, Inc., a leading provider of social game services, to engage millions of game players in social impact through content and campaigns integrated into games. In addition, Zynga.org works with other game developers to leverage games to raise awareness and funds for nonprofits. Earlier this year, Zynga.org collaborated with Games for Change to produce Half the Sky: The Game, which has amassed more than 1 million players since its launch in March 2013. To date, Zynga.org has developed more than 150 in-game campaigns, raising nearly $20 million for nonprofit organizations worldwide. Zynga.org is the cofounder of co.lab, a new learning games accelerator with NewSchools Venture Fund. Learn more at www.zynga.org.

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Q&A w/ BrainQuake: Revealing the world’s true math potential

Why did you start BrainQuake?

We founded BrainQuake because math education hasn’t changed much in the last 10,000 years. Many people have a natural aptitude for math but are unable to experience their full potential due to the unnecessary constraints we’ve placed upon mathematics learning opportunities in the touch screen era. As a result, too many pursue educational and career paths that are not math-intensive, have reduced earning potential and may lead to a lower quality of life — all due to outdated practices that fail to reflect true math fitness. We think we can contribute to changing that.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Our apps are designed to radically change the math user experience and user interface. Based upon research conducted by Jean Lave and others regarding the Symbol Barrier™, we firmly believe that, in the age of the touch screen, our combination of casual gaming and sophisticated mathematics conceptual thinking puzzles can unlock hidden math fitness in the mass market.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

co.lab provides us with a unique opportunity to engage with experts and peers who truly understand the promise of combining great gaming experiences with important educational content and meaningful pedagogy. There is no question that we have learned an immense amount about how to optimize our go-to market strategy based upon our co.lab experiences.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

We know that children and adults are far more capable mathematically than appears to be the case today when proficiency is measured via a limited set of tools. We are excited to work towards the day when BrainQuake’s apps can reveal the world’s true math fitness and unlock all of the individual and global benefits that will accrue to the world’s population as citizens in a mathematically literate world.

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Bean Bags Kids present Three Little Pigs

Bean Bag Kids present Three Little Pigs

Kid Bunch’s next 3D narrative adventure with the Bean Bag Kids will huff, puff, and blow you away!

Following Kid Bunch’s last Bean Bag Kids launch, which has been downloaded over 400,000 times, Three Little Pigs is the fifth application in the international reading and storytelling brand. In this edition, families reading in English and/or International Spanish help the three little piggies learn valuable lessons: listening to parents, being responsible and being kind to each other, to name a few.

“We’ve had so many parents asking for more Bean Bag Kids renditions of children’s fairy tales, so we decided to create our own version of the Three Little Pigs tale,” said Kid Bunch CEO Dan Escudero. “We’re excited to see how kids and parents engage with the story’s poetry narrative — we’ve found kids listening to their favorite scenes many times over. Building rhyme into the narrative has been proven to support phonemic awareness and language development.”

Bean Bag Kids present Three Little Pigs is a wonderful way to share an interactive story with children from ages 3 to 6. As kids help build the houses, and travel through the watercolor scenes, they’ll be sure to learn a thing or two from the little piggies!

For more information on Kid Bunch, visit www.kidbunch.com.

Bean Bags Kids present Three Little Pigs

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Timbuktu - Kids in the Kitchen

Timbuktu’s Pizza and Pasta apps featured in Apple’s “Kids in the Kitchen”

Timbuktu Pizza and Timbuktu Pasta have been featured as part of the new “Kids in the Kitchen” section in the Apple App Store. The apps are part of a new series of products Timbuktu is working on to engage children around healthy nutrition habits.

“When we launched Timbuktu Pizza, we immediately realized we were onto something good,” says Timbuktu co-founder and CEO Elena Favilli. “We reached over 500,000 downloads with no marketing whatsoever in a very short amount of time and we started to get ecstatic reviews from our users. Being Italian, we knew very well how engaging food preparation can be, but until that moment we hadn’t realized that it was something children and parents would love to explore together in a digital format.”

With Timbuktu Pizza, children are asked to choose among 10 different recipes for pizza and then to prepare it by combining the right ingredients. When they’re done cooking, they get to serve their creation to Eegor the monster: if the recipe was followed correctly, the monster will devour the pizza; if not, he will throw it at you.


“It’s a very primitive type of feedback, but it works extremely well with children!” says Favilli. “Most of the time the feedback that you get from games is simply ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but in this case Eegor establishes a very personal connection with you and kids love it. During our user testing sessions we discovered that many kids were doing the pizzas wrong on purpose just to see the reaction of the monster. Some would even prepare the pizza, go hiding somewhere, and wait for Eegor to throw it at them! It’s uncanny to see the type of emotional reactions you can create with a simple digital game.”

Timbuktu Pasta follows the same game mechanics, with 10 traditional Italian recipes for pasta sauces. “We really love designing digital products around food and we have a huge pipeline in mind. We grew up in a country where food plays a big role in everybody’s life, but living in the U.S. we realized that many children don’t even know that chicken wings come from chickens. In a country where one in three children is obese, it’s pretty clear that educating kids about healthy nutrition habits is as important as teaching them math or grammar.”

In addition to their food games, Timbuktu is working on a new series of products that will encourage children to stay more physically active. “Movement is a huge component of a a healthy lifestyle and it cannot be left aside when we talk about fighting children’s obesity. Plus, it’s one of the most powerful ways to leverage game play. Our biggest challenge right now is designing a new type of gaming experience, where our digital characters become children’s sports buddies and help them take full advantage of their bodies and energy, a.k.a super powers.”

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Celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month

In celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, co.lab is highlighting the voices of entrepreneurs from a diverse range of backgrounds working to unlock new possibilities for children in the United States and beyond. We are continually inspired by the power of education to bring people together to solve our common challenges — and especially by the individuals behind startups working to develop innovative technologies that help empower children, parents and teachers across the globe.

We asked several members of co.lab’s second cohort how their immigrant heritage has inspired their work to improve education. Here are their inspiring answers.

How has your immigrant heritage affected your vision of the company you are building?

“Being a two-time immigrant has allowed me to appreciate the unique strengths of multiple cultures, and hence has shaped my vision to build a company with an open culture, fostering diverse teams to build products with global appeal and impact.”
– Grace Wardhana, co-founder and CEO of Kiko Labs

“Timbuktu Labs was founded in the United States by two Italian founders. Often, when people think of startups and of the things entrepreneurs need to learn, they think of business development, charts, analytics. The thing is, if you create stories for children in a different country than your own, you have to learn a ton more! Thanksgiving traditions, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, what a “prom” is! You see things from a different perspective and you need to use that as a competitive advantage rather than as a cultural barrier. We studied American traditions but – at the same time – we didn’t want to give up our origins. That is why we created stories that reflect our national identity (in apps like Timbuktu Pizza) and stories that speak about American traditions (like our “How to survive Thanksgiving” guide on Timbuktu Magazine). We did this out of a personal necessity: we wanted our work to reflect who we are and we didn’t want to lose our identity in the process of building a company in a place that’s so far from home. We discovered that this approach actually adds value for our users all over the world, allowing them to find content that reflects their experience but also that makes them discover the beauty (and fun) of diversity.”
– Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo, co-founders of Timbuktu

“Our team at Kid Bunch comes from a very diverse background – four countries spanning three continents, to be exact. From England and Bulgaria to Chile and the United States, our little team of five speaks a total of seven languages, and have only recently made San Francisco and the U.S. our operational base. Every aspect of our startup is strengthened by multiple globalized perspectives, an approach to developing children’s experiences and stories that will not only appeal to kids in the States, but to families all over the world. Localization is an important aspect of our stories, and we’re incredibly excited to begin developing our stories for children who speak Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, and more! From the inception of our internationally awarded brand, The Bean Bag Kids, we’ve always looked to creating characters, narratives, and exciting learning experiences for an international audience.”
– Dan Escudero, co-founder and CEO of Kid Bunch

“Pixowl’s four co-founders were born in France, but each one has diverse family roots and origins. We are of mixed ethnicities and have all grown up in a world where the Internet has broadened our perspectives and connected us globally. We’re leveraging every day our international team of 25 employees to shape our vision and the games we make from three different office locations: San Francisco, Paris and Buenos Aires! The creator of our main game The Sandbox, a 2D world-building game with realistic physics interactions and over 150 elements to play with, is from Argentina! We firmly believe that there are no real borders in technology. Talented people can be found anywhere in the world, so why would you only be keen to looking for them in your native country?”
– Sébastien Borget, co-founder and COO of Pixowl

What drives your passion in working to improve education?

“Growing up, I was extremely fortunate to be raised in a family that prioritized education as a means of realizing one’s potential. In fact, my immigration path was primarily driven by the pursuit of top quality education, which in turn has shaped the opportunities I have today. I believe education is the biggest lever we have to improving global outcomes and the more we can do to democratize it and make quality education available to all, the better off we all will be. To top it off, it’s an area that has seen little change in a long time, and where a little innovation has the potential for huge impact.”
– Grace Wardhana, co-founder and CEO of Kiko Labs

“We are driven by the necessity of creating a more meaningful and respectful dialogue between children and grown-ups. We believe education is still too much influenced by ideology. More often than not adopting technology doesn’t necessarily mean we are innovating on education, it just means we’re replicating the same old paradigms with different tools. We believe that it’s time to rethink the way education happens: if we want to promote a culture of innovation we need to stop pretending we have all the answers and we need to start looking for answers with kids, not for them. Technology can be a great tool to change the way we teach, only if it changes the way we – as teachers – learn from our students. Italy is the home of two of the greatest pedagogical methods of the 20th and 21st centuries: the Montessori method and the Reggio Emilia Method. These two experiences teach us that opening ourselves up to exploration (again with the kids, not for the kids) leads to more engaged students and more satisfied teachers, thus to a better world.”
– Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo, co-founders of Timbuktu

“Our approach to improving education is quite simple. Our little team is focused on creating beautiful experiences to get very young kids interested in stories, reading, while giving them tools to engage in developing empathy and narrative comprehension, while also having a great deal of fun. We’re not a startup looking to reduce children’s competencies into graphs and numbers, but to instead give them opportunities to have fun while playing with meaningful and entertaining content.”
– Dan Escudero, co-founder and CEO of Kid Bunch

“Pixowl is really excited to help today’s kids take a leap forward and become smarter than our previous generations, so they are better prepared for the amazing things to come in the 21st century. Our game The Sandbox EDU will be focused on helping students understand in a very intuitive way many STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) concepts, including gravity, electricity, heat, energy, climate and geology. They will learn by solving problems, responding to scenarios, constructing or deconstructing environments, creating art, designing machines, tinkering with elements, creating condensation & evaporation, and anything else they can imagine. It’s a hands-on, play-based approach to show students what STEAM looks like in the real-world.”
– Sébastien Borget, co-founder and COO of Pixowl

“Still in the 21st century, we have not realized the goal of providing an excellent education for all children. Today’s technology provides, perhaps for the first time in human history, the opportunity to create scalable, authentic, embedded assessments that can tear down critical biases against and barriers to success in a global economy. We must stop limiting our children’s potential and create the tools they need to do the things we think they can’t.”
– Randy Weiner, co-founder and CEO of Brainquake

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Photo: Karsten Lemm

Q&A w/ Timbuktu: Cultivating imagination as a tool to know the world

Why did you start Timbuktu?

We started Timbuktu to create a place where kids and grown-ups could use imagination as a tool to know the world. We have always focused on games, stories and activities that help people see reality for its potential rather than for its limits. Our products help grown-ups treat kids as their peers. For us the future of education lies in honest communication between children and grown-ups based on reciprocal respect and passion for discovery.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

By connecting with them on an emotional level, not just an intellectual one. Emotional intelligence is as important as math, physics or social studies to us. Cultivating empathy will make children more resilient and able to deal with a complex and dynamically changing environment.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

co.lab has given us the opportunity to work closely with amazing game designers that are part of Zynga and with them we’re developing a new product, specifically designed to engage children around movement. We’re also looking forward to collaborating with other portfolio companies that are working with schools and need great content for their platforms. And we really hope to bring to life the first Timbuktu Playground in one of San Francisco’s public schools!

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

We imagine Timbuktu as the 21st century Disney. At the beginning of the 20th century, Walt Disney created a set of characters that would shape an industry and create a multi-billion dollar company. Today, we have a variety of tools that allow us to make a character interact, learn, and play with users: rapid iterations can be applied to content production as well as to software. Our mission is to create products that inspire and lead change, engaging children around the most powerful ideas of our time.

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Paint & Play with the Bean Bag Kids

Paint & Play with the Bean Bag Kids featured in Apple’s “Amazing Apps for Kids”

Kid Bunch’s latest application, Paint & Play with the Bean Bag Kids, has been selected as part of an exclusive “Amazing Apps For Kids” feature in the iOS App Store. Since Paint & Play’s launch, the application focusing on open-ended creativity has been downloaded over half a million times by families all over the world.

“We wanted to give an unstructured, creative play environment to kids,” says Kid Bunch CEO Dan Escudero. “So often kids are put in highly structured play and learning environments, and it’s our job as parents, teachers, and developers to make sure kids have a chance to explore their own imagination without rules and outlined objectives sometimes. It’s creating for the simple joy of creating!”

To learn more about the ideas behind Kid Bunch’s latest creation check out this ‘behind the scenes’ blog post.

Kid Bunch

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Q&A w/ TinyTap: Unlocking app development for teachers & students of all ages

Why did you start TinyTap?

Two years ago, a person with special needs who is close to me started using tablets very successfully. Immediately, we looked for apps he could use that would suit his specific needs, but nothing was quite right. Eventually, we came up with a way to turn any image into a personalized interactive activity in seconds. We used it to make apps based on his specific interests and needs, which he loved very much.

That simple tool became TinyTap, a platform that allows kids, families and teachers to unlock the power of touch devices by creating learning apps from photos and designs. It’s as simple as drawing on a piece of paper.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Both educators and successful companies recognize the need for creativity and dynamic skills over discrete knowledge. TinyTap empowers students and teachers to become Tiny app makers by making their own apps about the things they love and know.

In order to make an app that teaches about a subject, you need to research and explain it – you have to become somewhat of an expert. Not only is this a proven way to really learn a new topic, it allows for a more active learning process where students are engaged rather than passively listening to a lecture. From the teacher’s point of view, TinyTap allows them to leverage the power of touch devices, narration and interactivity, creating entire digital lessons and assessments in real time. Educators can make personalized apps to help just one student or the entire world.

“Teachers are the new rock stars” is a common phrase nowadays – it implies that teachers, like rockstars, can reach beyond a classroom to connect with an audience of millions who share a common interest. TinyTap allows for exactly that – a teacher can create a profile and share the apps she makes with a growing community of educators and learners from across the world. The best teachers can also monetize their content as apps on TinyTap and the App Store.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

We have several objectives in working with co.lab, including:

  1. Meeting teachers, schools and educational organizations. I’ve had a chance to meet with the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum and learn about their inspiring TinyTap profile, where kids are documenting and explaining the projects they’re working on at the museum. We want to meet more organizations that can benefit from offering these types of creative activities. There are also hundreds of U.S. schools registered on TinyTap. We want to meet the people behind these accounts and get their feedback on the product.
  2. Conducting pilots and field tests. We constantly see teachers posting their TinyTap apps and talking about class activities they’re doing with TinyTap, but we rarely get an opportunity to see classroom use firsthand. We’re hoping to see more of how TinyTap is used by teachers and students.
  3. Learning more about the U.S. education system. Being a Tel Aviv-based company, we have a lot to learn about the U.S. education system: What are the real needs, and how can TinyTap make an impact? How do U.S. educators perceive the current state of education and how do they see the future?
  4. Making new friends. Another goal is learning from other co.lab companies about their insights in the education world and meeting new friends from Zynga, NewSchools and other organizations working to inspire creativity and change how we learn and teach.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

In the immediate future we are planning to launch a new version of TinyTap redesigned for all ages, as we’ve learned what a powerful tool TinyTap can be for teachers and learners of any age. We’re always adding new types of activities you can create – this week we’re launching an interactive video tool to help you turn any YouTube video into an interactive lesson!

In the long term, we see TinyTap becoming the biggest marketplace for learning apps: like an app Wikipedia for young learners, a place where they can learn about anything in any language in a fun interactive way – created by other students, families and teachers.

We believe that just like indie developers are making blockbuster apps that wow established commercial gaming companies, so can teachers make incredible learning apps that will leave the big publishers speechless. Who knows better how to teach than real teachers, who teach real students every day?

If you’re an experienced teacher who is interested in collaborating, we’d love to hear from you. You can reach us at rockstar@tinytap.it.

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Kid Bunch

Q&A w/ Kid Bunch: Inspiring creative imagination through play

Why did you start Kid Bunch?

Co-founder and CEO Dan Escudero became involved in the children’s application ecosystem through playing on the iPad with his then 3-year-old son, Niko. After realizing how few high-quality experiences existed for kids, he teamed up with his brother and co-founder, Matias, to create an exciting 3D children’s story. After releasing the application, becoming Apple’s App of the Week, and receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from children, parents, and educators alike, Dan and Matias dove headfirst into creating artistic 3D narrative experiences and haven’t looked back since.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Above all, Kid Bunch focuses on three things: innovative learning, the importance of play, and renewing a profound love for imagination, artistry, and storytelling. We believe today’s mobile and educational technology markets have a long way to go in providing stellar content for these qualitative themes. As artists and parents ourselves, our mission is to fill this gap by developing products that inspire youth development and creative literacy.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

Kid Bunch is aiming for the stars, and co.lab is the perfect place to make it happen. We’re working on a brand new app combining our 3D narratives with Asimovian robotic tales and all sorts of mind-bending platforming. Working closely with our Zynga mentors, we’re hoping to blaze a new trail by bringing emotive narratives and addictive gameplay to kids 9 and up.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

From children’s books 2.0 to TV pilots and e-toys merging with physical toys, we’re developing products and brands that will completely harmonize stories, games, and learning into a single play experience. We want to create products in all areas of children’s media that inspire a love for learning, creative imagination, and the importance of play!

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Q&A w/ Kiko Labs: Promoting school readiness through neuroscience and game design

Why did you start Kiko Labs?

Co-founders Grace Wardhana and Tim Lopez started Kiko Labs after careers in gaming and consumer technology. As parents, they wanted to apply their expertise to make a difference in children’s learning. Grace observed her 4-year-old daughter’s fascination with touch-based devices and recognized their power to teach and entertain, but it was difficult to find content that reflected the latest research in cognitive and developmental neuroscience. Grace and Tim realized that by combining evidence-based scientific research and intelligent game design, Kiko Labs could engage kids in training key cognitive skills while entertaining them at the same time. It would also help children prepare for school, as cognitive skills like executive function and reasoning have been proven to be critical for school readiness and success.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Kiko Labs melds neuroscience and game design to create cognitive training programs that children love to play. Our first product, Thinking Time, engages children aged 3-6 with a series of mini-games set in Kiko the Fox’s village. Each game is based on a neuropsychological task used in scientific research and targets one or more cognitive skills. The game framework adapts in difficulty along multiple vectors based on each child’s performance, ensuring that he or she plays in the zone of proximal development. An engaging reward activity helps motivate children to keep playing. We also provide parents with data on their children’s progress, along with percentile comparisons among the relevant age group and useful tips on how to further support children on their learning journey.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

By collaborating with fellow game creators, educators and marketers, we hope to improve our understanding of the best practices in product design, strategy, marketing and distribution in preparation for our major product launch this summer. With co.lab’s support, we are also studying the feasibility of our product for the institutional market for kindergarten and first grade through school pilots.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

At Kiko Labs, we believe that every child deserves to fulfill his or her potential. We are creating a new learning experience to help them do just that. With an approach that combines cognitive research, game design and adaptive algorithms, we are building a premier educational company with a global mission to increase children’s learning capacity through scientific games.

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Q&A w/ Pixowl: Developing a hands-on, play-based approach to STEAM education

Why did you start Pixowl?

In 2011, we founded Pixowl with a vision to build games blending exciting gameplay, comic book art and character-driven storylines. We strive to innovate by focusing on mobile phones and tablets, always trying to reach out to new audiences.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Our game The Sandbox (TSB) is rooted in the learning theory of constructivism. Our idea is to make games that are used as learning tools, attach to them social features and allow players the freedom to build anything they want!

TSB’s originality resides in the fact that it is an advanced physics simulator disguised under a very creative, open-ended world building game. In comparison to Lego or Minecraft, TSB offers a more profound level of interaction between elements, allowing players to create actual systems and chain-reactions.

We help students understand in a very intuitive way many STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) concepts, including gravity, electricity, heat, energy, climate and geology. They learn by solving problems, responding to scenarios, constructing or deconstructing environments, creating art, designing machines, tinkering with elements, creating condensation & evaporation, and anything else they can imagine. It’s a hands-on, play-based approach to show students what STEAM looks like in the real-world.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

We would like to release TSBedu, which will focus on teaching, targeting parents and teachers. co.lab will support us getting the game into K-12 classrooms as well as improving the product with the help of Zynga mentors. We will build a prototype for mobile phones and tablets to run classroom pilots, then iterate rapidly on the product design to adapt the topics and lessons and prepare for the launch of TSBedu as a standalone premium app for parents and teachers.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

Our vision is to build a brand that appeals to kids, parents and teachers. We’d like to reach 30 million installs by the end of this year, 1 million daily active players and $100,000 in daily revenues. We aim to establish The Sandbox as a brand that could last 10 years (or more) with a clear approach: The Sandbox & The Sandbox EDU. We have the opportunity to become the best world building game in the market, estimated to be 200 million players and still growing.

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Timbuktu releases Romeo + Juliet

Download here!

Apps Playground:

Here’s a thought: perhaps an app may be a good way to introduce modern-day children to Romeo and Juliet in their own homes, without a chortling audience of oiks. If so, Romeo + Juliet by Timbuktu may be just the thing.

Released for iPhone and iPad, it’s a combination of text, animation and music telling “the most unlucky love story of all times” with a few mini-games thrown in to reinforce the plotlines.

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co.lab announces second cohort

co.lab, the Edtech Accelerator Founded by NewSchools Venture Fund and Zynga.org, Announces Second Cohort

SAN FRANCISCO, March 4, 2014—co.lab, the edtech accelerator created by Zynga.org and NewSchools Venture Fund focused on developing innovative learning games, announced today a second cohort of companies for its four-month program. The accelerator, which launched in September 2013, recently celebrated the graduation of its first cohort, which included Kidaptive, Locomotive Labs, Motion Math, Pluto Media and Edmodo. The second cohort includes seven cutting-edge companies uniquely poised to expand and deepen their impact on academic and social outcomes for children around the world.

“We are extremely excited about the high quality and quantity of applications we received for co.lab’s second class. The seven startups we selected are among the most promising companies in this space and we are eager to see them refine, develop and scale their products during the coming months at co.lab,” said co.lab Executive Director Esteban Sosnik.

co.lab empowers startups leveraging the power of digital games to build transformative educational technologies for PK-12 students and teachers. To achieve this goal, co.lab’s inaugural cohort collaborated with Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ: ZNGA) volunteers on refining product strategies, ramping up marketing and user acquisition efforts, improving product management, and enhancing user experience, retention and engagement while integrating feedback from students, parents and educators. At the end of the program, the companies presented business plans to a panel of respected venture capitalists and education experts, including Charles Hudson, partner at SoftTech VC, Jeremy Liew, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, and John Danner, founder of Rocketship Education.

The second cohort, chosen from a pool of over 60 applicants, includes a diverse set of companies innovating at the intersection of education and games:

  • BrainQuake (www.brainquake.com) delivers personalized, adaptive mobile math apps on a proprietary platform with state-of-the-art performance dashboards and analytics.
  • Kid Bunch (www.kidbunch.com) is an e-toy studio creating award-winning digital adventures, toys and interactive stories for the entire family.
  • Kiko Labs (www.kikolabs.com) melds game design and cognitive neuroscience to create training programs that help children develop critical skills like attention and reasoning.
  • Pixowl (www.pixowl.com) develops The Sandbox, a unique educative world-building game named one of Apple iTunes Best Games of 2012 & 2013, offering infinite creative possibilities in crafting, pixel art, chiptunes music, contraptions and much more.
  • Timbuktu (www.timbuktu.me) creates mobile games that help children stay fit and healthy. Winner of Best Children’s Magazine of the Year at Digital Magazine Awards 2013.
  • TinyTap (www.tinytap.it) is creating a simple platform that allows users to design personalized educational games and learn from thousands of games shared by the TinyTap community. Winner of Verizon’s Powerful Answers Award for first prize in education.
  • CourseMaster (www.course-master.com) is dedicated to providing an easy to use application platform for online/offline education.

The companies will co-locate in co.lab’s space at Zynga’s San Francisco headquarters for the program, which runs through July 2014. As with the previous cohort, Zynga is encouraging its employees to volunteer and share their expertise in areas such as game design, testing, analytics, product marketing and distribution. NewSchools is providing a range of support including access to expertise in edtech fundraising, instructional design and classroom integration.

“We are thrilled with how quickly co.lab has become a value-added resource for companies developing the most promising learning games and apps,” said Ken Weber, Executive Director of Zynga.org. “Our partnership with NewSchools Venture Fund, along with the contributions being made by Zynga game designers, educators, and the investment community, is adding up to measurable, lasting impacts on academic and social outcomes for 21st century students and teachers.”

About co.lab
co.lab is an accelerator that works with startups leveraging the power of digital games to build transformative educational technologies for PK-12 students and teachers. Our model is built upon a belief in the need for innovation in education, and in games’ potential to enhance learning – by creating virtual sandboxes that encourage experimentation and engagement, offering new opportunities for collaborative interactions, and unlocking new ways to assess cognitive and social growth. Our four-month program is designed to add value to early stage edtech companies while generating knowledge that will help designers, educators, researchers and funders better understand challenges and opportunities related to developing high quality learning games and applications. Learn more at http://www.playcolab.com.

About NewSchools Venture Fund
NewSchools is a not-for-profit organization committed to transforming public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children—especially those in underserved communities—have the opportunity to succeed. We actively share what we’ve learned through our investments, bring together educational leaders from across the country, and advocate for smart policies at the federal level. Learn more at http://www.newschools.org.

About Zynga.org
Zynga.org is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to the idea that social games are a platform for social good. Zynga.org works closely with Zynga, Inc., a leading provider of social game services, to engage millions of game players in social impact through content and campaigns integrated into games. In addition, Zynga.org works with other game developers to leverage games to raise awareness and funds for nonprofits. Earlier this year, Zynga.org collaborated with Games for Change to produce Half the Sky: The Game, which has amassed more than 1 million players since its launch in March 2013. To date, Zynga.org has developed more than 150 in-game campaigns, raising more than $18 million for nonprofit organizations worldwide. Zynga.org is the cofounder of co.lab, a new learning games accelerator with NewSchools Venture Fund. Learn more at www.zynga.org.

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Sooinn Lee: When Learning is Painful

Sooinn Lee designs award-winning learning games and assistive applications for children with special needs at LocoMotive Labs. Prior to founding LocoMotive Labs with her husband, she worked as a game designer in the MMO game industry for 12 years. Sooinn’s passionate belief in combining best game design practices with neuroscience research on learning helps her to create engaging educational applications for young children with special needs.

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co.lab and BrightBytes Labs release white paper on games and learning

Games are revolutionizing the way we interact, play, and learn. BrightBytes Labs and co.lab have released a new white paper that examines research-backed links between game design features and student development, illustrated with real-world examples.

Click here to download your free copy of Achievement Unlocked: Digital Games as a Key for Learning.

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Kidaptive raises $10.1 million Series B round

Leo's Pad

Today Kidaptive, a company that developed a comprehensive iPad curriculum for kids as young as two and a half, announced a $10.1 million funding round. […]

Kidaptive’s adaptive learning technology is more psychometrically sophisticated than other consumer products on the market, says cofounder and chief learning scientist Dylan Arena. “We have a fully defined model of a learner and use statistical techniques to update it based on the observed behavior,” he says. The kids get a game that levels up and tells them “Good job!” or “Try again!”; the parents’ app shows where their kid stands on 87 separate learning goals, including colors and shapes, creativity, and perseverance.

Read more at Fast Company.

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LocoMotive Labs releases Todo Telling Time

Todo Telling Time

Learning to tell time is an important life skill so we created Todo Telling Time to provide playful learning opportunities for children in kindergarten through second grade to learn all aspects of time telling through fun, interactive mini games. With this app, children will learn to tell time to the hour and minute, calendar concepts, digital time, and the components of a daily schedule. Telling Time also addresses secondary factors necessary for mastering time telling. These include practice with ordering numbers around a clock face, counting by 5s, elapsed time, and estimates of time. Each game is unique and engaging, ensuring that children continue to have fun as they learn the necessary skill of telling time.

Read more at LocoMotiveLabs.com.

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Motion Math and “Flipping the Field Trip”

Photo: Joan Young / edSurge.com
Photo: Joan Young / edSurge.com

Fourth grade teacher Joan Young on playtesting Motion Math’s Hungry Fish with her students:

“My goal for this particular visit was multi-faceted. I wanted students to see the innovators in our community and be inspired by their hard work. Equally powerful was the chance for students to have a voice in contributing ideas to products created for them. Finally, I regularly seek ways to inspire kids to work hard to follow their dreams and passions. These guys were great role models, emphasizing the importance of learning from mistakes and working hard.”

Read more at edSurge.com.

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Q&A w/ Kidaptive Co-founders P.J. Gunsagar and Dylan Arena

Why did you start Kidaptive?

Kidaptive’s co-founders, P.J. Gunsagar and Dylan Arena, started Kidaptive for different reasons. P.J. became frustrated by the sugary animated shows washing over his own kids and decided to produce high-quality content that would help kids learn while having fun. Dylan recognized that the interactive properties of tablets allowed preschoolers to wrestle with much more interesting challenges than traditional computers could offer to such young learners. Together, P.J. and Dylan realized that by combining (a) a compelling series of stories, (b) the social reward of interacting with a group of slightly older virtual “friends”, and (c) adaptive, game-based assessments, Kidaptive could engage learners in a year-long preschool curriculum with continuous embedded assessments monitoring learner progress — and then report that progress to parents, along with guidance about how best to support those learners outside of tablet time.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

Kidaptive’s products bring the wonder of high-quality interactive animation and game design together with the latest cognitive research. Our first product, Leo’s Pad, engages preschool-aged children with games, puzzles, and projects woven into an immersive story arc. Our learners are directly a part of the narrative, and they are therefore highly motivated to participate in the games and challenges presented to them to propel the story forward. Our embedded assessments also allow us to customize learning, so that we’re asking the right question at the right time, creating an optimal learning experience. And perhaps most importantly, we provide parents with clear guidance and useful tips about how to further support their child’s progress and interests.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

By collaborating with fellow educators, game designers, and technologists in the co.lab, we hope to improve our understanding of the best practices in game design, analytics, product marketing, and distribution. We also look forward to collaborating on exciting new projects with our co.lab teammates.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

We will bring early learning into the 21st century by engaging with children and parents in a long-term partnership built upon scientific research, a passion for storytelling and technology, and a deep commitment to the lifelong success of every learner. Educational progress is measured over the long term, and we are building Kidaptive as a premier educational partner to help children achieve their dreams.

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Pluto Media

Q&A w/ Pluto Media Founder Luis Sampedro Diaz

Why did you start Pluto Media?

Developers in the educational gaming market are striving to help kids achieve global excellence. Many are focused on math, reading and science, which are essential, but I think the key to success as individuals, teams, and certainly as companies and nations is innovation. And I believe innovation is fostered through creativity, which is exactly why I founded Pluto Media.

I have a lifelong passion for music and a track record of innovation, including scientific patents, so I understand firsthand how these work together. I would like all children to have the same opportunity, but unfortunately instead I see too many budget cuts in school music programs. I intend for Pluto Media to help fill that gap and provide children with the opportunity to have fun while preparing for global success.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

I have seen how our first game is teaching music concepts, and I know our upcoming product will have exponentially more impact as it provides rich social experiences that allow kids to play together and learn about music. With the new product kids can play and practice together many musical instruments at school and at home using a tablet, at a fraction of the cost of buying physical instruments and getting lessons. This is unprecedented.

On top of that, we have reinterpreted one of the most popular and successful products for kids (Club Penguin) for tablets. I believe an engaged kid is a kid who is ready to learn, which is why we are putting so much effort to create an app that can deliver educational content in an incredibly engaging way.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

It is an honor to be a part of this program, and I really value interacting with outstanding entrepreneurs who are reshaping education with their products. I also know the key to making an impact is connecting with educators, parents, and children. I’m hopeful that the co.lab experience will help Pluto Media make those connections directly and via new business partners.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

Pluto Media is a platform to develop children’s minds through creativity and social play. We have already seen success in music, and hope with our new, social app to become the go-to musical resource for tablets at schools and at home. We envision a virtuous cycle of fun, friends, and learning, which starts with music and grows to other areas of creativity.

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LocoMotive Labs

Q&A w/ LocoMotive Labs Co-founder Sooinn Lee

Why did you start LocoMotive Labs?

[Co-founder and husband] Gunho and I have been designing learning apps for young children since 2009—we began from the bedside of our newborn son. We decided to take the plunge and build a sustainable company of our own in 2012 with the focus on supporting families with children with special needs.

Many of our team members, including myself, have spent most of our professional lives working in the online gaming industry. Once we became parents, our professional motivations changed… Inspired by our own children with special needs and the educators and therapists who facilitate their learning, we decided to dedicate our talents to designing accessible games and applications to help all children learn independently.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

LocoMotive Lab’s Todo K-2 Math Practice and Todo Telling Time help children of varying abilities learn and practice elementary math at their own pace at school and at home. Our math apps are designed to align with the Common Core State Standards as well as address skill deficits such as memory and sequencing for students with learning differences. With those apps, struggling students gain the knowledge and confidence they need to progress in math while demonstrating that they can have fun and be successful in their own learning.

Learning independently is an empowering experience for any child, but especially for those with special needs. By prioritizing children with learning differences during the design, development and testing processes as well as by using independence and inclusion as guiding design principles, we produce high-quality engaging learning apps that change children’s challenges into successes.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

We hope to share our experience working with children with special needs and raise awareness of the importance of universal design for learning with the rest of the companies in the cohort. Networking and learning best practices from the other successful cohort companies is invaluable. Each company has their unique approach to learning and technology and it’s inspiring to be surrounded by peers who are motivated to make a positive impact in children’s lives. Zynga.org and New Schools have been generous mentors providing feedback on our apps in development.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

Not all learning environments are designed with the idea that every child is unique… So as an educational technology company, we will continue to design play-based learning systems for children with special needs. All children, including those who struggle most, deserve to feel success and confidence during the learning process.

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Motion Math QA

Q&A w/ Motion Math Co-founders Jacob Klein and Gabriel Adauto

Why did you start Motion Math?

We started Motion Math because many students never discover the beauty and power of mathematics, because of the sad disparity between the high quality of entertainment experiences and most digital learning experiences, and because of the new possibilities of mobile technology. What if we could leverage the power of new technology to make math more tangible and concrete for kids? That’s the question that excited us, and still does.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

With every one of our products, we’ve aimed to innovate at the intersection of gaming and fundamental math concepts. Questimate! is the first game where players create their own estimation questions. Wings offers six forms of multiplication which make the concept of multiplying visual. Hungry Fish and Hungry Guppy are the first games to leverage the touchscreen for instant addition – you just touch two numbers together to add them. Zoom is the world’s most interactive number line, using the touchscreen pinch gesture. Fractions! is the first learning game to use the accelerometer. These are interactions that you can’t do on a website or with a textbook or with flashcards.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

We’re already gotten tons from interacting with Zynga staff to learn about analytics, product management, and testing, from sharing our experiences and big questions with other cohort companies, and from joining the larger NSVF family. We’re also excited to work more closely with schools in the larger NewSchools network as we design for the needs of classroom teachers.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

We aim for Motion Math to be an indispensable teaching tool, helping kids find the delight of challenge. It’s a really exciting time to be working in educational technology; we want to keep creating work that shows the limit of what’s possible.

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Q&A w/ Edmodo

Tell us about Edmodo.

On Edmodo, teachers are at the center of a powerful network that connects them to students, administrators, and parents. This network surfaces the world’s best resources and tools, providing the building blocks of a high quality education. In Edmodo’s secure environment, teachers and students can collaborate, share content, and use educational apps to augment in-classroom learning. These powerful capabilities enable teachers to personalize learning for every student. Edmodo is free for teachers and students and always will be.

How are your products helping students learn in new ways?

With the ubiquity of the internet, students are constantly exposed to information, and a textbook with its decades-long cycle is no longer sufficient to meet their needs. Edmodo provides real-time information, interactive learning tools and stimulation to keep students engaged in their education. Using modular, engaging content right on their devices.

What do you hope to get out of the co.lab experience?

There is much we can learn from co.lab, through Zynga’s experience in game development, and in their experience working with other web-based platforms and stores. At the same time, we’re happy to help the other companies in the program through our experience, and for some, to work on partnership possibilities, potentially supporting other member companies by helping integrate with our platform as a powerful distribution channel.

What’s your long-term vision for the company?

Edmodo’s long term mission is to connect all learners with the people and resources they need to reach their full potential.

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