Maybe good is good enough–do students deserve high-end educational software?

I was in a serious discussion with the head of one of the two largest educational publishers about the incredible possibilities that high-end educational software could offer students.  I pressed him to explain why everyone in educational software kept cranking out primitive games instead.  His seasoned response?  Kids are already so bored in school that by comparison, just a little bit of entertainment is enough.

In other words, if you’re starving, a crust of bread is a feast.  Why waste money on steak? Or more generously, if a baloney sandwich will do, why prepare a feast?

So when is good good enough? Let’s use multiplication tables as an example. Are Flash cards good enough? They’re cheap. If you invest the time, they work. Why do anything else? So maybe you’re more motivated than that and you make a little flash game that teaches multiplication. Maybe you go the extra mile and have it track their work and generate reports?  While you’re at it, why not Google someone’s thesis from the 80’s so you can call it “Research-Based” and charge a lot of money for it.  That’s basically as far as anyone gets.  So why in the world would anyone choose to invest millions and millions of dollars over years and years, when viable alternatives are so cheap and easy?

Our answer is that cheap, primitive solutions aren’t good enough because “good enough” can be easily quantified and our students are failing.  Only about 1/3 of students in the US are considered Proficient in math. Period. That really ought to immediately end any speculation over whether our current efforts are good enough.

Once every student is achieving needed levels of mastery in the needed time period . . . THEN we can start arguing about whether they’re having too much fun along the way. Until then, can we as an industry please pull our head out of the sand and stop flooding the world with primitive educational software that simply doesn’t do the job?

Now, I understand the complaints about that philosophy myself. “Hey, the software we already have DOES the job. It’s just insanely hard to get schools to realize that and use it.” Yes, schools are unbelievably fragmented, politically divisive, cash-strapped, and justifiably cynical about educational software. You would truly have to be stupendous in ways as-yet-unimagined to cut through all that friction.

So do it. Create programs that aren’t just well-intentioned, evolutionary improvements. Break all the rules. Invest a billion dollars in Algebra and change the world forever. Billion sounds like a big number, but over 10 years that amortizes down to just $25 per student. And that’s just in the US.  Spread that across the globe and it’s practically free. Do you think districts would pay a few bucks to yank all of their students up to Proficient in Algebra? Uhh . . . duh! You’d make a fortune and you’d be saving the world at the same time.

So to summarize then, can we please all settle in on the fact that whatever you’re doing, however you’re doing it, we need to massively improve our education technology. Children are still getting left behind. Only a handful are getting ahead. We have the technology to fix it and we have the capital. We just don’t demand it. We’re settling for a crust of bread when we could have a feast.

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11 Responses to Maybe good is good enough–do students deserve high-end educational software?

  1. Dacey says:

    Its very necessary that you should be proficient in what ever you are doing.Everything should be done at perfection level.

  2. This is a total no brainer. Our kids are very tech savvy, why would we think that pong style software would cut the mustard? They’ll be bored in 2 minutes straight. Our 6yo is rapt with your multiplication program – we could do with the + and – programs before Christmas though 😉 I found you through Mr Pai and think he is totally hitting the nail on the head with education. Connection and good quality games is the way forward for education – particularly for boys….. and boys have the biggest problems both here (UK) and in the US. Keep up the good work, your games are fab. Fiona

  3. Sarah Hester says:

    You are not kidding. As a math teacher, it makes me mad when I’m told to use the ActivStudio software to “create” engaging activities for my 8th graders! THEY have got to be kidding. There is no way that thrown together activities mimicking video games is going to “engage” any student. Hire the folks who know how to do it!!!!! Pay them well!!! License it for my campus.

    Educators tend to think that if they have a computer, they can do it. Hah! In my previous career, I was a graphic artist. I hear, “Ohh, I’ve got to spend a little more time to make my presentations look as good as yours.” Sure, take four years of college fine arts and graphics, spend a kazillion hours learning multiple software applications, invest about 6 or 7 years working in the field, and you can do it like mine easy. Duh. Your stuff is great. Keep it coming!!!

  4. Stefan Mayer says:

    I appreciate Big Brainz’s effort to create such great educational products. I think more companies should be putting ed software together like this for basic skills across the curriculum. As a teacher, I believe that having good and entertaining software for children is critical for today’s standards. I can spend more time teaching critical thinking and problem solving in the classroom, if I’m not using up my time reviewing facts, which kids should know.

    You are leading the industry in this category. I hope that through your marketing, you are finding great success!

    I have a few suggestions:

    1) Think about making products for other basic skills in other subject areas, like vocabulary, spelling, geography, historical dates & facts, scientific elements, etc.
    2) Make the product flexible so that teachers could load a bank from a self-created txt or doc file to create their own “game” for their students. (There’s a Jeopardy game console that can be found in ed catalogs that has that capability. Your product should too.)
    3) Make a space on your website that allows teachers and parents to upload these self-created banks and make those available for free on your website. (This follows a model similar to Geometer’s SketchPad.)

    Again, thank you. Peace and best of luck!

  5. Brett Taylor says:

    Been a fan for years, how could anyone not love BigBrainz! The concept, the products, the pricing, all first rate and I’m hoping the start of a new wave. Kids can learn and together we can reach them and teach them.

  6. I like your view points!!

    In schools of today, Educational software plays a very important role in teaching and learning system!

    No doubt about this at all..

    Nice blog keep blogging!1

  7. Nice blog post!!
    being a teacher myself i appreciate ur viewpoints about educational software



  8. Andrea Fachel Leal says:

    I have found your software while navigating on the web and immediately bought it, three years ago. My – then – 3rd grade son really liked it and we began a campaign in school for other kids and the school to buy the license. We have now purchased your newest version, and my younger son is also enjoying Timez.
    Kids have access to IPads, computers, Wii, Playstation… And all the books, the good tv shows, travelling… If teachers and schools don’t keep up, classes will certainly seem very boring.
    I have 2 suggestions.
    1 – consider translating. We live in Brazil. Despite the fact that most of the game can be understood when it comes to numbers, it would be really nice and a greater stimulus.
    2 – in the same age / grade group, the kids are working on writing. In Brazil, as in many other countries, 2nd and 3rd grade are when kids learn and practice writing cursive. Recent technology has made us all debate if we should teach writing in different manners and what those modes should be. I do believe we must include in this literacy project the ability to handle typing. Consider an interesting game where kids would learn how to type…!
    I wish you all the best.

  9. Auto says:

    I don’t know who this educator was but he obviously is not a good teacher of students with Dyslexia, or any other special learning needs. My son’s attention span and progress has improved greatly and he has now moved from the bottom of his class to the top of his class after just 6 months of using this program. Instead of demanding that he sit down to do math, he enjoys it and spends hours on this program without any arguing or fussing to do math homework.

    Thank you so much. This program is amazing, and you have made our home life much more peaceful.

    When will the Addition and Subtraction programs be done? – My son has been asking about them now that it is past Christmas 2011.
    Also , do you know of any programs like this for spelling?

  10. Ashlyn says:

    My oldest son really enjoys Timez Attack Multiplication. I was telling my brother that we were using the software as a supplement to our Math curriculum and he seemed that to disapprove. However, he watched my son play it for a while and was very impressed with both the graphics and play aspect, as well as the educational value in the software. We are eagerly waiting on the Addition and subtraction software for my younger son. When will it be available?

  11. melissa says:

    I would love to see these products in other languages (in particular italian, as I live and my children are learning here 🙂 ).

    If you are interested in having help translating, I am here 🙂
    melissa in Italy