Zap Zap Fractions is an iPad and iPhone math app for children that manages to be both instructional and beautiful. When I saw the game demoed by its creators, Malaysia-based Visual Math Studio, at the recent Echelon event, I was impressed by its illustrations of aliens and spaceships, as well as its entertainment value. The concept behind the game, which teaches kids the basics of fractions, was inspired by a Calvin and Hobbes comic.
“When Calvin was in class, he couldn’t relate with what was being taught, so he started daydreaming about the teacher being a fat alien,” says Joann Soon, content developer of Visual Math Studio. “He would make learning fun through his imagination. That was his coping mechanism.”
“We came up with lines like ‘is math alien to you?’ and from there we took the visuals,” she adds.
Visual Math Studio is made up of Soon, designer Adam Goh, and founder Wei Chong. Before entering the tech industry in 2004, Chong worked as a math tutor as a high school in Singapore. At that time, more teachers were integrating computer-based educational tools into their classrooms, but Chong was unimpressed with what he saw. A lot of the software was very “formula-ridden,” and made the teaching process even more complex.
“The educational software actually made it harder for students to learn,” says Chong.
After leaving his teaching job, Chong spent three years as a design quality engineer at Creative Technology. Then he launched a site called Math Expression, which offers online tutoring as well as 12 mobile apps. One of those apps scored 160,000 downloads, which convinced Chong to launch Visual Math Studio to focus on creating fun and visually-engaging educational apps. The startup hopes to use the feedback Chong gathered during six years of running Math Expression to set itself apart from other math app makers.
Zap Zap Fractions, the first release from Visual Math Studio, has two parts. The first is a lesson in fractions and once children complete it, they play a shooter game set in outer space. Eventually, Visual Math Studio will offer a platform with other games, as well as analytics to help students see how they can improve their math skills.
A fuller version of Zap Zap Fractions is scheduled for released in August, and future apps will focus on other math fundamentals, including numbers and operations and algebra. Zap Zap Fractions will monetize through a freemium model first, and then once Visual Math Studio releases more apps, they will also offer subscriptions.
Eventually, the team hopes to branch out into other subjects as well. The startup currently targets its apps at the U.S. and other English-speaking markets, but plans to ink partnerships with other companies to translate and localize their products for other regions, including Southeast Asia, Europe, and South Korea.