Motion Math Drives 800K Downloads of its iOS Learning Apps

San Francisco-based startup Motion Math has reached a key milestone as its newest game hits the iOS App Store. Motion Math: Wings is designed to help kids understand and learn multiplication concepts via visual cues, and by leveraging iPad-specific technology. The startup has seen over 800,000 downloads of its four titles to date since the first one, Motion Math HD, hit the App Store in September 2010.

Motion Math is just one of many companies trying to capitalize on the iPad and iPhone’s capabilities as an educational device, but it is one with a considerable pedigree. Founders Gabriel Adauto and Jacob Klein are both Standford grads with specializations in computer science and education, and lead developer Derek Lyons is also a cognitive scientist with a Ph.D. from Yale. The company’s advisory board and investor group includes seasoned investors like Dave McClure and folks with strong educational chops like Mike Wood, founder of LeapFrog. Klein, in an interview with BetaKit, explained what it is that sets Motion Math apart from others out there trying to tackle this problem.

“What we’re really mastering is how to bring together gameplay and learning; it’s not that you solve some math problems and then have a game reward, it’s really creating experiences that truly merge those two together,” he said. “We’re creating new kinds of learning experiences that use the touchscreen, that leverage the accelerometer. We’re really trying to use mobile devices for everything that they can do.”

So far, the approach seems to be working. Motion Math titles have all managed to rack up top 10 app status at one point or another, and three have reached the top five. Klein told BetaKit that they’re also seeing strong engagement; over half of the people who download Motion Math: Hungry Fish become monthly active users, for instance, so the apps aren’t being opened once or just a few times and discarded. Klein emphasized that engagement is crucial for the company, since they’re trying to provide learning tools with real, lasting value.

To capitalize on its progress, Klein said that Motion Math hopes to release a sequel to its original title, and also sees itself expanding to cover other subject matter as well, but not before thoroughly nailing its initial targets.

“Our entire first games suite is centered around number sense, we haven’t done anything in geometry, in algebra, or probability,” he explained. “We’re really focused now for the next few games on that core sense of ‘number;’ mental arithmetic, estimation, place value, etc. There’s a lot of research that shows how critical number sense is.”

While Motion Math is focused primarily on the consumer market and parents, Klein said that as schools increase their adoption of digital learning tools, they’re seeing more and more institutional adoption of their software as well. In fact, he noted that when Apple goes into schools selling its products, Motion Math titles are among the apps they use to help demonstrate the value of using iOS devices in educational settings.

Educational software is a growth area, especially when it comes to mobile. Motion Math is taking a cognitive scientific approach to the problem and trying to take full advantage of the range of mobile technologies available, which sets it apart from others who are working on bringing existing material over from print sources pretty much unchanged. In the end, though, educators are often slow to accept new ways of teaching, so Motion Math’s model may take a long time to prove its worth and become part of the curriculum, which is why starting with parents at home is a good strategy for gaining users and market share.

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