Math is the Same in Every Language: Mike Bates of Matific Discusses Developing Global Arithmetic Curriculums
What exactly is Matific? According to Mike Bates, Vice President of Global Sales at Matific, it is “a global math, K-6, primary school, elementary school math resource, curriculum-rich content.”
In an interview with Hannah Nyren of EdTech Times, Bates outlined how the company has evolved since it was founded. He also discussed Matific’s most recent developments, and its plans for the immediate future.
Matific was first created with the intention of providing students with rigorous curriculum that teaches math, explores concepts, and allows students to investigate the “what if”s. As of early 2016, Matific has added new capabilities, content, and functions to its platform.
Their most recent development, however, has been a complete redesign of the user interface for students, which allows students to work in a “gamification” format. Matific’s next goal, as stated by Bates, is to upgrade the teacher and educator experience by introducing district-level reporting.
“How we think we can change the world,” said Bates, “Is actually putting the power of instruction back into the hands of the educator.”
EdTech Times: Alright so, Mike, tell me a little about Matific. What problem are you trying to solve with this product?
Bates: Matific is a global math, K-6, primary school, elementary school math resource, curriculum-rich content. We’ve done our best to align, for the countries that we’re in, to country standards. We’ve localized the curriculum to meet the needs of the students in those countries, so it’s not like taking a product, developing it in one country, and then taking that same product and then pushing it out, and when you lose the localization people can tell it’s basically an imported-type curriculum. We’ve done our best to make sure that the forward-facing, or the customer-facing interface is matching and aligning to local expectations.
EdTech Times: Cool. So, what are you working on today?
Bates: Today we were invited to participate in the Israeli EdTech Startup Commerce Delegation. Yesterday we were in New York City, today Boston, then the rest of this week will be out west in San Francisco and Salt Lake City, meeting educators and other folks in the EdTech startup space with the opportunity to share our story from each individual company. So that’s why I’m here, participating.
EdTech Times: And where are you personally based?
Bates: Out of our New York City office, and Matific, being a global company, all of our research and development is in Tel Aviv, Israel, and all of our marketing is oversea and out of Sydney, Australia.
EdTech Times: Okay, cool. And tell me where it all began. Do you know where the company started, and how it’s grown since its origin?
Bates: You could get more information from our website, matific.com. There’s a whole founder’s page. But in essence, a group of founders started with the idea that the best way to lift any economy or any society is through best practices of education. They happen to have chosen math as the curriculum and vehicle, and so the initial “mission” if it were, was to develop the best math content that actually taught math, not just how to take a test in math. But that’s what really drove the initial creation of Matific, to develop the best math content and to have it be a global curriculum, not just a…what’s the right word?
EdTech Times: Well, that’s the great thing about math, it’s the same in every language.
Bates: I’m sure you’ve got editing tools?
EdTech Times: Oh yeah, I’ll cut out any flubs.
Bates: Yeah, please do.
But then, from there, it originally started as a free product, but over the course of time as we’ve added more content and capabilities. So now there’s the capability of embedding and aligning Matific, and here in the United States, for example, we can embed local district standards, state standards, and textbook curriculums and embedded in our management system. So as we’ve added more capabilities, more content, more feature-rich functions, we went from a free model to now a paid subscription model. And that was released back in February of 2016.
As the company has evolved now into this content-rich school product, we also have a consumer product, Matific Club, which is for parents who are looking for additional resources for their students. But as we’ve gone into this paid subscription model, we now have an investment from an investor who has been not only very successful, but wants now Matific to be their legacy, so I find that to be a…for me, that motivates me to be part of a company that is not only socially-minded, yes we are a for-profit company but it is one that is driven by a mission that all children should have access to the very best curriculum and that’s what Matific stands for.
EdTech Times: Right. And I’m sure math wasn’t just selected at random. Math has been proven in many studies to be one of the greatest indicators of scholastic success, college graduation rates…
Bates: And being a global company, that was part of the founders’ mission, which was “it doesn’t matter which language you speak, math is math.” You don’t deviate from that, and so, or at least what, 80% or more of math is math.
EdTech Times: Yeah, Matific and Cady Heron, from Mean Girls. That’s great. So, tell me a little bit about what makes Matific different from other math tools.
Bates: I think what makes Matific different and more unique, and coming to the company when I originally did over a year ago, I had the very same question because—
EdTech Times: There’s so many out there. It’s a core subject, of course there are so many out there.
Bates: Exactly, you go to any math conference and there’ll be a thousand vendors there. It’s amazing how many are in the space. So what I would say what really sets Matific apart is we’re focused on the conceptual depth and breadth of understanding math concepts, which is what drives our instruction, which then leads to good foundational skills. So, rather than what we find to be typical are companies who focus on shoring up and only focusing in on foundational skills.
So with the Matific approach we wanted to make the teacher, the educator, the focal point of instruction. So, the technology is there to partner and support the teacher in the classroom. Not take away that experience. It’s adaptable to many teaching styles, and also translate then to the students, which, students have multiple learning styles. And so, students who are very kinesthetic really like to explore the “what-ifs.” Matific allows the students to explore the “what-ifs.”
To me, some of the things that really separates us from the rest of the other math products that you’ll find in the marketplace are conceptual depth, conceptual breadth, rigor— rigor’s a big deal with Common Core or other types of standard alignments. So you’ll find the curriculum to provide the rigor that educators are looking for. And as more and more districts are moving away from procedural learning and procedural understanding of math, and moving into conceptual understanding of concepts, then that’s where Matific is nicely positioned.
EdTech Times: Cool. So tell me a little about what you’re working on for the next twelve months. What’s next in the pipeline?
Bates: From curriculum development perspective or?…
EdTech Times: All around. I mean, you could start with curriculum development, but also any other initiatives that are going on, any search for growth?
Bates: The probably biggest thing for Matific over the next twelve months is a complete redesign of our user interface. For the teacher as well as the student. We’ve just released our new user interface for students. We now have that capacity for students to work with Matific in a “gamification” format.
EdTech Times: And how long did you have the previous interface?
Bates: For about three or more years.
EdTech Times: Okay cool.
Bates: And so that was a significant upgrade for the Matific interface for the student experience. Next we’ll focus on the teacher and educator experience. So right now a teacher has an ability to pull reports for their classroom to do formative-type assessments to differentiate instruction and the things that go on in the classroom. But we’re now expanding the reporting capability to a roll-up model. So the classroom rolls up to the school, the school reports then roll up to the district. So that’s going to be the new experience now from an educator’s perspective.
EdTech Times: That’s awesome.
Bates: Yeah, district-level reporting.
EdTech Times: So I’m going to jump back a little bit and ask you, what in your experience as a student helped inspire you to work for an education company? What got you interested in education, and did this have anything to do with your experience as a student?
Bates: Interesting. Math was one of those subjects that, I could do math, but I hate math.
EdTech Times: A lot of people feel that way! I felt that way too before I worked for a math company.
Bates: And I think that’s why with Matific it’s refreshing because I can relate with the educator in the classroom. Many of your elementary teachers are supposed to be content, right? They’re generalists, so they teach all subjects. But if you ask them, do you like…here’s another analogy. If you ask somebody, “Do you like to read?” They’ll say “I don’t particularly like to read, but I will read” or “I love reading, I can’t put a book down” or whatever. But with math it’s either—
EdTech Times: No one goes around saying “I hate reading.”
Bates: Nobody says “I hate reading,” but if you ask somebody about math they’ll tell you either, “I love math” or “I hate math.”
EdTech Times: And a lot of people, they’ll tell you “I hate math.” I actually just heard someone speak about this. “Girls Who Code,” I was listening to the founder of “Girls Who Code” actually at Inbound this week and she said the exact same thing. And especially with women, that is common. It’s acceptable to say you hate math.
Bates: Right. And so, I think a number of us have negative experiences when it relates to math.
EdTech Times: And then the people teaching it have also had negative experiences.
Bates: Exactly! And so, I know that, I can’t remember who said this, but a lot of times children have a capacity to learn much faster than at a rate than what teachers can actually teach. But when it comes to math, if I only know how to do something one way because procedurally that is the right way, then you’re really denying the student the opportunity to explore the “what if”s.
And that’s why Matific, when I saw it, was kind of an “a-ha!” for me because from a teacher’s perspective it fits into teaching, it’s very flexible to fit into different teaching styles, where you can deliver to a whole class, or small group, or individualized, but from a student’s experience it allows them to explore the “what if”s. “What if I were to do this, and actually manipulate the lesson?” So it’s not timed, it’s not rote, it’s not kill-and-drill, it’s not those things. It allows students who perhaps struggle with math to fail in a safe environment. That’s one thing that we really encourage, is the best learning comes from not failing, but—
EdTech Times: Trial and error.
Bates: Trial and error. It’s exploring. But we also encourage collaborative learning, so it might be a classroom where it’s two students on one device, or many students to one device. So collaboration is another big component to learning, not just in math but in other subject areas. So Matific fosters all those areas, then also, who doesn’t like manipulatives, and being able to play with manipulatives.
And Matific becomes basically a virtual manipulative where I can cut and paste and do things with the technology that would be otherwise very messy, so as a classroom teacher, trying to manage many kids doing cutting and pasting, and paper, and it just becomes unmanageable. But if I can do that same through the technology or the ability to stack blocks upon blocks upon blocks, you don’t have an endless supply of blocks, for example, in the classroom. But with technology you have an endless supply of manipulatives, so those are some other things that take away that anxiety around math and makes it more fun. It’s exploratory.
EdTech Times: Cool. So, how do you think Matific can change the world?
Bates: How can Matific change the world? I think it’ll change the world in the sense that we’re actually giving the instruction back to the teacher. I have been in Ed Tech, I joked about it today during the meeting, I have been in Ed Tech for thirty-one years—
EdTech Times: Are you an Ed Tech lifer?
Bates: I’m an Ed Tech lifer.
EdTech Times: I’ve been told I’m an Ed Tech lifer.
Bates: Yeah, when I started Ed Tech, believe it or not, the programs were so robust back in the day that you needed a double-sided, double-density, five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disk in order to manage the curriculum. It was that robust.
EdTech Times: That’s intense!
Bates: Yeah, it was very intense. But, not much of the process of Ed Tech had changed over thirty years, it was “sit in front of the computer, put on your headphones, and let the computer assess and place and remediate,” and before you know it the tech, by magic perhaps, the technology is supposed to impart all this instruction into a child while they’re sitting there, not necessarily engaged in what is happening.
EdTech Times: But now I think the most important evolution isn’t just the technology, it’s about creating a better learning experience in personalized learning, in adaptive learning. Kind of using that software to collect data and to create better instruction.
Bates: Correct, and that’s where the proper use—
EdTech Times: It’s not just Math Blaster, which was fun, but there’s only so far you can go.
Bates: Exactly. So that’s, for us, how we think we can change the world, is actually putting the power of instruction back into the hands of the educator. They’re the ones that know their child the most, so I think there’s enough research out now to show that data only tells one part of the story, it doesn’t tell the whole part of the story.
One example might be, if you’re getting ready to do an assessment, I don’t care what subject area, the data might show that a child didn’t do well on that assessment, but what the data won’t show is that perhaps that child had some type of, maybe there was an incident on the playground that upset the child, that interfered with them succeeding on that test. So educators know their children, and a lot of times the data doesn’t necessarily represent what they know about them.
EdTech Times: Which supports the argument that computers can’t replace teachers.
Bates: Exactly, exactly. So, that’s probably the biggest thing there.
EdTech Times: Cool. So are there any other big announcements you wanna share with us today? Any new releases, anything really exciting going on?
Bates: No, if I told you the one big announcement it might jinx it.
EdTech Times: So you’re not allowed to tell me yet?
Bates: What I can allude to—
EdTech Times: Stay tuned!
Bates: Yeah, stay tuned! But what I can allude to is that, as a new and up-and-coming company, I think right now we’re under the radar screen, so to speak, but—
EdTech Times: But that’s good, because you want to be kind of out of the public view until you have things worked out, until you look really good, and then their first impression will be the best impression.
Bates: And that’s why this week will be a game-changer for us, in the sense that we’re about to ink our first district-wide deal, which will represent one district with one hundred and forty elementary schools, sixty-five thousand students…
EdTech Times: Wow, hopefully by the time I release this it won’t jinx it!
Bates: Exactly, exactly. I won’t tell you where, I won’t tell you who, so we won’t jinx it. But, for me, that adds and says that we’re on the right track. We have a number of districts that we’re working with, where we’re actually working with their curriculum departments within their districts, making sure that Matific is meeting… Today we learned in our session that, as an Ed Tech company, what kind of problem are you trying to solve? One of the things that I believe we’re trying to solve is, with educators, instead of “here’s my Ed Tech product, take it or leave it as is,” we actually wanna go in with the district and say “what problem are you trying to solve?” and then can Matific be customized in a way that meets their need as opposed to us saying “well this is how Matific functions, you need to adapt.”
EdTech Times: That would be great. And that adaptability is, I think, one of the solutions to the education issues that we have today.
Bates: Right. And so we have a lot of, we’re very flexible, I mean if it takes customizing some of the technology to interface with a district’s student information system, for example, we have that capacity to do that. Working with these curriculum departments in terms of customizing alignments to meet their curriculum maps and calendars, we can certainly do that.
EdTech Times: Do you think this will limit the number of districts you can partner with, or?…
Bates: I think it’ll open up an unlimited number of districts now, because each solution will be fitting the need of each unique district. So even though a district is K-6, K-12, you can take one state, for example, and every one of those districts within that state still has a different mission and vision for what they think good quality instruction should look like for their communities.
EdTech Times: That’s cool. Well, I’m excited to see what happens in the next few months!
Bates: Me too!
EdTech Times: It was great speaking with you today.
Bates: Yeah, thank you, I appreciate you including and inviting me to be here.
EdTech Times: Yeah, totally.
Jocelyn is a freelance writer originally from sunny South Florida, where she was the Managing Editor of Axis Creative Arts Magazine and a Senior Academic Mentor at United Mentors. She is currently a student at Emerson College, where she spends her time refining her writing skills when she isn’t preparing for the famous New England winters.