At 9, Mariah Martin already has a handle on future careers. “Veterinarian, professional figure skater, fashion model and teacher – not all at once.”
For now, she must settle for tech entrepreneur.
The Seattle fourth-grader and her father, Scott, understand learning math for many children is no joyride but they have developed an iOS game app they believe will put kids in the driver seat on a road to mastering the basics.
CarQuiz allows drivers to navigate a track with math equations along the way and a choice of three answers a little further down the road. Once the equation appears, the driver must quickly figure out the answer as three choices appear. With a finger swipe, the driver moves into the lane with the correct answer.
The race lasts about five minutes, or three laps of the track, and the driver encounters 10 questions on each lap. There are three levels for the game, which targets kids 5 through 12. Drivers can view a summary of the correct answers and view the problems they missed. Right answers earn coins drivers can use to upgrade their car or purchase a pet to ride along on the next race.
The United States consistently scores low in math according to international testing and schools are periodically adjusting math curriculums in search of techniques to boost scores.
The Martins wanted to make a game that uses fun to cloak the objective – practicing math. Math has always been fun and came easy to Martin. He worked with Mariah at an early age to give her the same comfort and competence with numbers.
“We’ve chatted so much over the last couple of years and we recognize a lot of kids struggle with math,” said Scott Martin, a freelance 3-D animation artist. “I dislike it when I hear kids say they hate math. We want to combat that some how by making better games so kids have fun and not be so intimidated.”
The father-daughter duo formed their own company, Smile More Studios, and hope CarQuiz catches on so they can develop more educational games.
The Martins hope to launch CarQuiz in the Apple App Store in the next couple of months. They are raising money on Kickstarter to finish the game and then get to work on a version for Android devices.
The app has been in development for a third of Mariah’s young life. Three years ago, father and daughter were on a hike in the woods near their home. As they walked, they talked about their common love for games and one of them – Mariah says she was too young to remember who – came up with the idea of collaborating.
“My dad brought a sketch book with him and started sketching out our ideas. He made a lot of drawings and we’ve been working on it ever since,” Mariah said. “The testing has gone really well. We’ve tested it on my class, we’ve tested with a few kids on the block and my teacher allows people to go out in the hall in groups of two during math to play the game.”
Mariah has been an active collaborator and astute advisor to what might be fun for kids. While she does not code or work with gaming engines – their partners, Media4, are bringing the game’s features to life – her influence is the emphasis on fun and in the selection of colors, pets and clothes for characters. Even the name of their company, Smile More Studios, offers a cheery alternative to her father’s company website, which depicts some of the menacing characters he has created throughout his animation career.
One of the most important features of the game is what is not part of it – shame. Both Martins agreed to keep out negative consequences for missing correct answers. Cars don’t go off road or explode and there are no messages that rank intelligence or make the player feel like they have some how failed (the website offers a tutorial on how to do math in the head, without counting on fingers or taking to pencil and paper). If an older player has to switch to an easier level to brush up on their skills, they can without feeling held back.
“We originally designed it where you had coins taken away for a wrong answer,” Mariah said. “You shouldn’t be disciplined for making a mistake, you should be rewarded for what you do right. The coins let you trade up for a new car or pet.”