TenMarks, Education Software Startup, Looks to Improve Kids’ Math Skills as Summer Beckons

You wouldn’t know it from the weather until yesterday, but summer is on its way. Soon classes will be out of session and students of all ages will be running wild. What that means, besides more Commencement speeches (and, soon, being able to get a seat at a Harvard or Davis Square café), is that millions of American grade-school and high-school kids will be doing their best to forget everything they’ve learned—especially, it seems, in math class.

One local company is trying to do something about that, one classroom at a time. Newton, MA-based TenMarks is a software startup focused on Web-based math education programs. Its personalized software includes interactive online worksheets and video lessons, and targets subjects from third-grade math through high-school algebra and geometry. The idea is to supplement the classroom experience, not replace it. (And yes, the software includes some elements of game mechanics—like rewards for finishing different levels—but it doesn’t go overboard and try to turn the whole lesson into a game or anything.)

Earlier this week, TenMarks released some new programs designed to combat “summer learning loss” and keep kids’ math skills sharp (and improving) when they’re out of school. The company points to a pilot program in California that showed elementary-school kids who used TenMarks dramatically improved their math skills over the summer, as compared to those who didn’t use the software.

Online math lessons are a dime a dozen these days. But what distinguishes TenMarks is its individually-tailored instruction and its “ability to provide help right at the point where the student is answering a question,” says co-founder Andrew Joseph, a veteran of OpenOrders (acquired by IBM in 2000), CommercialWare, Corel, and other tech companies. For students struggling with a question, he says, TenMarks provides hints individually written for that question, as well as video instruction about how to approach it (whether it’s a word problem, long division, or solve for x).

Even so, the startup found that parents, who pay a subscription fee for the software, were slow to hear about and adopt the product. So, in the past year, the company has shifted from selling its software to families to collaborating with schools and teachers to develop a free version for classroom use. That has led to a lot more exposure, and has led TenMarks to move to a “freemium” model in the past few months, whereby schools and parents can get a basic version of the software for free, and if they like it, they can pay for an upgrade to more sophisticated features.

Thanks to word of mouth referrals among teachers and parents—as well as mentions on blogs, Twitter, and other social media—the company has been pleasantly “surprised at the number of sign-ups,” Joseph says. TenMarks now has content to meet math education standards in all 50 U.S. states and is selling its software from California to Kentucky, North Carolina, and Georgia, he says.

TenMarks, founded in late 2008, is part of a cluster of tech companies in Boston … Next Page »

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