CodeMonkey Teaches Kids to Code with Video Game: Interview with Cofounder Jonathan Schor
Jonathan Schor has been coding and teaching coding since before it was cool.
Schor is one of three founders of the Israeli startup CodeMonkey—an online video game where young students help a monkey catch a banana by learning how to write lines of code. Inspired by the ability of computer science education in enabling students with real life skills, CodeMonkey is an affordable solution which gets students interested in coding at an early age.
The award winning game features adaptive learning and real programming language allowing students to learn coding with creative problem solving. CodeMonkey is available in 18 languages for use in schools or at home.
Check out the full interview with Hannah Nyren of EdTech Times here:
EdTech Times: Welcome to EdTech Innovators and Innovations, a podcast series where we talk to edtech startups about how they were founded and where they are today.
EdTech Times: Hello, this is Hannah Nyren for EdTech Times, and today I am interviewing Jonathan Schor, the founder and CEO of CodeMonkey.
Jonathan Schor: Co-founder.
EdTech Times: Co-founder!
Jonathan Schor: Yeah, we’re a group of three wonderful cofounders. Best friends since we were eight.
EdTech Times: Aww, that’s the best way to start a company—with the people you trust the most.
Jonathan Schor: Yeah, yeah. The only way for me.
EdTech Times: So, tell me a little bit about CodeMonkey studios, and what you do.
Jonathan Schor: So CodeMonkey’s studio is an Israeli startup company that created the award winning CodeMonkey platform. It’s an online platform for teaching text-based coding in a real programming language starting at elementary schools. For the kids this is a full-blown game experience, but there is a lot of automatic assessment and adaptive learning going on the background so it really creates a very scalable, ready to go, computer science course to implement in classroom scenarios, public schools, private schools, after schools.
EdTech Times: Cool. So why was CodeMonkey Studios created?
Jonathan Schor: Like I said, us three founders, we’ve been coding together since we were eight or nine. Our parents are computer engineers and mathematicians so we had a good, early start. We were lucky to have that. We started working, doing that for a living at a relatively early age, and when I was 19 I started programming courses for children in Israel. And I came up with this concept of using MIT’s logo, but I created small code challenges, a game like creedles on top of that for my students to solve during class, and that worked very well and I thought this should be online, like a platform that does that and has the content built on top of that already. So teachers can do the same all over the world and they don’t need to come up with the technology and integration and content creation I had to do. That was the early inspiration for CodeMonkey. We had to wait 13 years, I think, for the edtech trend to mature and for the trend of teaching kids codingK-12 to mature. We did other things.
EdTech Times: It’s all about timing.
Jonathan Schor: It’s all about timing that’s true.
EdTech Times: That’s a good point. You could have created software for something ten years ago and people didn’t even realize they had a need for it.
Jonathan Schor: They say there is no difference then between being too early and being wrong.
EdTech Times: That’s a good one. So, tell me about where you’ve come since then. How has the product progressed? How has your audience base progressed? How has the company progressed since you first started? Whenever that really was.
Jonathan Schor: So we started late 2013. So one of the first, I think, steps in our process of maturing as a company was to chose our battle. We created this online game teaching kids how to code that could potentially serve both the consumer scenario and the interpersonal education classroom scenario. We participated in the educational games accelerator by Zynga and NewSchools Venture Fund in San Francisco. That’s about when we realized we need to chose our focus and we decided to focus on classrooms. That was, I think, the first big step in choosing our path. There were other things, later and the market matured.
We were doing text-based coding in a real programming language since day one, and the trend of code and code.org was mainly around the dragon rock block puzzles. But, we were very happy to find out a year or two years later that the market is really matured in its understanding, the U.S. market, in its understanding of the need and the block based is not enough. Kids grow out of it very quickly they want to switch to the real adult thing. You know the real skill, and it’s not enough in serving the original purpose of giving kids opportunities, supporting the economy with educating the next generation of potential coders so you need to move forward pretty soon from the block based coding to the real life skill if text based coding. So that was a very important step in the maturing of the market.
EdTech Times: Cool, so where do you see the product going in the next year or so. What’s next?
Jonathan Schor: So we’re adding more and more modules to support, better support creativity because in the basic model is basically about learning to code. You do need to play out creativity in solving coding problems the same way you do when you’re solving math problems. But we’re gradually shifting to offering more and more, per say, creativity tools. The first one was the CodeMonkey level builder. Now we have the CodeMonkey game builder that is launching any day now with two specific game design courses. Next steps would be creating more modules probably around app development to be able to address more grade levels in the same school. To be able to maintain our students for more than one or two school years on our platform.
EdTech Times: So what does this mean for the people who use your product? More grade levels, what else?
Jonathan Schor: Mode module more content, longer pathways. So today they start with, let’s say, with CodeMonkey and then they move to something else. Our goal is to be able to keep them on our platform for as long as possible.
EdTech Times: So it’s much more specific and it’s farther they can go with the product. Cool. So, we’re gonna go back a little bit. Tell me about your personal experience and what inspired you to become part of this. I know you talked a little bit about it when we discussed the origination of the company. Why is this company important to you. Why is this idea important to you?
Jonathan Schor: So, I stumbled upon the world of education after high school. In Israel, if you don’t go to the army then usually you do social/civil service. I went to Sderot in in the south of Israel. Very under served communities, immigrants, and that’s when I found out about the huge potential education in general has. Specifically, computer science education in enabling upper social mobility and I’ve literally seen it with my eyes it’s changing kids life from 180. Taking them from extreme poverty to very well paying jobs pretty fast. So, that has been the motivation and has always stayed the motivation and it’s taking into consideration today and every decision, product or business decision we’re making.
We’re creating CodeMonkey for the masses. It’s not an expensive solution that will only row in a rich private school environment. We’re talking about the urban district about third world countries, public education systems, large classrooms, basic devices, basic internet connection, and modest pricing.
EdTech Times: How can you afford to do this? How can you afford to sell to the schools that don’t have money as well as the schools that do have money. Where does the balance come in?
Jonathan Schor: It’s a short term versus long term strategy, I say. If you want to get some quick revenue, then definitely you should go after the private schools in your neighborhood, but we’ve still got financially the large potential is in the average school system.
EdTech Times: The average school system. Because there are more of them.
Jonathan Schor: Because there are more of them, exactly. We’ve started now at targeting the Chinese market with a new partner that we have there that’s selling to after school companies. It’s a huge thing there that everyone in China spends a lot of hours in after school every day. They pay for it. It’s not just for rich kids, but it’s a huge business.
EdTech Times: Even some Chinese students in the U.S. will do that. There are some programs like that here.
Jonathan Schor: Okay, so that’s one example. Obviously you need to keep price points for that, for the after school business in China. It’s a huge market and the same here in the U.S. If you’re getting a large district deal you can keep the ten dollar per student price point. But, if it’s the Chicago public school system or another district in Maryland there is significant revenue to be made.
EdTech Times: How do you expect this company to change the face of education? How will what you’re doing today impact education in the future?
Jonathan Schor: So, the change is going to be very slow and CodeMonkey is going to be a very small part of, you know—
EdTech Times: It could be faster than you think.
Jonathan Schor: It’s gonna be slow. We’re talking about the public education system, it’s a large system. A lot of people, high stakes, it shouldn’t be fast. The change shouldn’t be fast, I think when dealing with children’s education. So it’s going to be gradual, but it’s already happening.
My best friends in Israel are teachers and I’ve been doing a lot of informal education both in and outside of schools, and I already see. Typically, it starts with the younger teacher. Typically, there is the early adopters, but more and more of them are using technology in every class every other day now if it’s history or english or math. CodeMonkey is another tool, another technology that takes part in that shift.
EdTech Times: Well. Thank you for speaking with us today it was great getting to learn more about CodeMonkey. Are there any other final things you want to tell us about—Any big announcements, new releases?
Jonathan Schor: So, Learning.com, one of our partners in the US, are going to announce the winners of the first CodeMonkey codeathon that they launched with their clients in the US today, I think. No tomorrow. A quarter million students of American public students registered to the code-a-thon. So stayed tuned on Twitter for that, for the announcement of the winner.
EdTech Times: And you guys have received a lot of rewards, funding and accolades from a number of different organizations. Can you tell me a little bit about which organizations have shown an interest in CodeMonkey?
Jonathan Schor: Pearson were the first. They announced a new challenge in there Pearson catalyst 2014, they announced a new challenge of teaching to coding to K-12 and happily enough they chose CodeMonkey for cooperating on this challenge. It wasn’t really a prize. There was some the power itself was very powerful. They did fund the effort.
Then we won. We we’re finalist in South by Southwest EDU 2015. One of the winners at EdTech EU in 2015. We won the Israeli start-up challenge.The general start-up competition for Israel not just for education. We’re very proud of that. And I’m probably forgetting some others.
EdTech Times: You’re just doing too well. You can’t remember all of the people who think you’re doing great. Alright, well it was great speaking with you. I hope you have a good trip back to New York.
Jonathan Schor: Likewise, thank you.
Courtney Major is a Senior Writing, Literature, and Publishing student at Emerson College, where she has written for multiple on-campus publications. Her work has also been published on multiple online diabetes magazines. When she isn’t working, she’s probably trying to find the best espresso with whipped cream in Boston.