August 21, 2013

Math Libs and kidCourses | Recommended by PBS.org and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Math Libs and kidCourses

Recommended by PBS.org and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Read below to learn more about MathLibs® and kidCourses, how this business got started and how you can assist with their growth through a KickStarter Campaign.

What is kidCourses?

In the 90s, kidCourses was New York based and we focused on running live courses in the New York area. Our most popular course was the free ABC Signs Program, a sign language program that was offered to Long Island preschoolers. We attempted to volunteer at a local library but were told “We don’t accept volunteers. We have to pay you” (generously). From there, our family began running pro bono and paid courses. We were happy to offer live instruction to motivate children to be life long-learners, express their creativity, spread positivity, and have fun.

We had also established MathLibs® as a free online math resource. Now, with the kids all grown up and a westward move, we took a hiatus from delivering live courses (until now!) and started sharing our content online at (the new and improved) kidcourses.com.

Jessika – Tell us more about how you got started and why.

I was always teaching, tutoring, working at camp, and making educational games. My younger sister and brother were lucky participants in “Miss J’s Class” (when we would play “school” and they would call me Miss J). So when I had my own kids, I had a new batch of educational hostages… Lot’s of ASL, some chemistry, phonics, and fitness songs. The reason we started getting paid as kidCourses was because we tried to volunteer at a local library to teach a mini-course (an ASL course we had been running for free at preschools) and we were told “We don’t accept volunteers. We’d have to pay you.” Then I saw the check and decided to pitch them on a mini-music video course which they called mini-MTV. It was a big hit.

kid courses banner

There’s a sentimental story behind the girls who did your voiceovers. Tell us about that!

Athena…

Well, they are all family and they are all well into college and into STEM.  We have my daughter Athena, who, as it turns out, did not enjoy recording voiceovers (oops) but preferred being a real-life helper when we taught ASL. I’m sure seeing this style of community service is, in part at least, what led her to spend three summers in Fiji, teaching kids and building sustainable houses (among many other things). She’d come home and say, “I just want to get back out there and help.” She’s now studying architecture and construction management, and interning at Balfour Beaty (a Fortune 100 “Best Place to Work” – a safety leader in the construction world). Athena says: “Just because there’s a way things have to be done doesn’t mean that’s the way we have to do them now. Regular school wasn’t for me.” Athena finished up high school online and interned in NYC at Raw Media, interfacing with reps from Motown Records and the like, adding her two cents on scripts and racing around NYC. She found the perfect college for herself in San Diego. Now she is youngest female in San Diego to become a CMIT (Construction Manager in Training). Her small collegiate team won first place for Virtual Design and Construction at an international competition in Reno this year, and she also presented at the CMAA conference in Chicago. She mentors students in Compton and is always participating in outreach.

Zoey…

Zoey is my niece and she was the “one take wonder” on the MathLibs® voiceover track. She recalls this project as one of the most vivid memories of her past, and had fun ad-libbing narration such as “Remember, the denominator is down… and the numerator is nup!” She’s now finishing up her degree as an Applied Physics major with a Math minor. She enjoyed doing research at the Cornell Accelerator Lab and is always pointing me in the direction of interesting research, such as how dreading math can cause real pain (per brain scan proof) and how there’s a direct correlation between the percent of young women taking Physics in high school and the percent of women in STEM careers in the community. She says, “I had women role models to look up to and emulate… there are not many out there. Trying to find more role models to look up to is really important, and so is outreach so that younger kids can be exposed to physics and science.” Recently she saw a screen shot of Aladdin’s Math Quest (computer game) and thought: “This explains my whole life!”  She’s always associated math with Aladdin and she now recognizes that the game had her solving SAT level algebra questions at a young age. She also noted my Beach Boys Calculus song as another thing that’s been stuck in her head since childhood. Thank goodness she likes this, because my younger sister still can’t get it out of her head and she’s 37.

Jade…

Last but not least is Jade: the looks, brains, and drive behind the new incarnation of kidCourses. After graduating as the Salutatorian of San Diego High at just 16 years of age, Jade has gone on to complete her freshman year at San Diego State with many honors. Keeping her studies as priority number one, Jade also enjoys working with two on campus organizations: Compassion for African Villages and The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, both of which she is on the executive board for.  Jade likes to promote the notion of global conscious and her favorite form of community service is tutoring. When she is not studying, on campus, or at her “day job” (at a media company), Jade enjoys time at the beach surfing away the sunlight or working on her choreography as a certified Zumba instructor. After college, Jade plans to go to med school, preferably in Chicago, her soul city.

Your site was founded in 1992. You’ve lived and worked through countless technology changes and advances. What changes have been the most significant for your business?

In the beginning our site was just an informative site — somewhere we could send libraries to. Doing live courses in New York was a success for us, in that we actually made money… not a lot, but it helped because I was chiefly a freelancer when the kids were young. After the kids grew up and we all moved to San Diego I decided to put some of the courses online. In 2011 the site became more of a blog.

You currently have a Kickstarter campaign running. Tell us about that.

MathLibs® let’s kids make their own silly math questions. The site used to be separate from kidCourses, but we folded it under the kidCourses umbrella and released more resources through the kidCourses platform.

I created MathLibs® in the early 2000’s and it’s gotten a lot of traffic. PBSTeachers.org linked to us, as did the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Little kids wrote us the cutest compliments. We can really see that people all over the world like this free resource.

Now that the common core curriculum has come up, and Mac hates Flash, gamification of eLearning is hot, as is STEM and MST, and there are all these mobile devices, I thought it may be time for MathLibs v2.0. We could update the look and feel, make it mobile compatible, and key everything to the common core. The KickStarter is my way of seeing if people think this is a good idea too!

kid courses logsWhere do you see the site/business in five years?

I’m getting back into the live programs and I think in five years we’ll be able to run them on both coasts… or all over the country.  The Critical Thinking courses are where I’d like to focus a lot of my energy. We also have an electronics course coming out where kids can build a circuit with solar panels. I want to review and revamp our old live courses and write new ones. Additionally we will be selling iBooks in the near future, so we will see if that is a successful revenue stream.

What words of advice can you offer other business owners?

After I had the great idea to put what used to be kidCourse’s live content up online, I devoted a lot of time and energy to the site and kidCourse’s incarnation as a new “business.” Then I read in a marketing book, “If you’re not making money, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby.” And I couldn’t argue. What we’ve done online really represents my hobby.

At my day job I’ve worked on business plans, business cases, market research, integrated marketing, etc. With the kidCourses site, Jade went away on a trip, I was bored and playing with Posterous, and I was thinking, “Posterous is fun. How can I fill these pages?” and viola…the kidCourses site became a blog of resources for kids.

Now we’re working backwards to see how this could be a viable business model… So my advice would be to work forward! Put pen to paper and write up a business plan, etc. When I was in swimming class my teacher would always point and say, “Look at Jessika. That’s a good example of a bad example!” At this point we are a good example of a “hobby site” but as a business site…

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Disclaimer: MathLibs®/kidCourses is a client of Mommy Perks and 411 Voices: Women in Media. We are assisting MathLibs®/kidCourses with Online promotion and their KickStarter Campaign. All opinions expressed are solely our own.

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