New startup together.science gives students free online tools to learn math
The idea for the startup began years ago with Gunnar Mein, who saw as a high school teacher how children lost interest in algebra, a fundamental part of all STEM subjects they would then encounter. . “I saw the need for a digital tool that made it easier for kids to do structured math – not just a set of pre-made problems, but something they could contribute their own homework to,” he said. .
Mein later met Qian Deng, now a student at Chicago Booth. Joined by Gabriela Arismendi, MBA’21, they turned the concept into a startup that hopes to impact students around the world.
How was this team formed?
Me : I had been thinking about it since around 2016. Then I decided to get a master’s degree in data science at the University of California, Berkeley, and that’s where I met Qian. She heard about my plans and contacted me.
Deng: Growing up, I participated in many math competitions and did very well. But I learned the content indirectly, so I never got into good habits like showing my work and asking for help. I started to see a gap between me and my classmates, and I stopped believing in my ability to be a mathematician, which at one time was my life goal.
So when I heard what Gunnar was working on, I realized I had the specific ability to help people not give up on this path – to provide these powerful opportunities to get feedback and ask for ugly.
Arismendi: I am not a mathematician. But the education aspect is near and dear to my heart, so when I met Gunnar and Qian, it went really well. In particular, our goal of making the product freely available to as many students and teachers as possible really resonated with my experience working with students of color, low-income students, and first-generation college students.
How does the platform work?
Deng: The initial core was that instead of doing things with pencil and paper, students could now do their math homework digitally. This means you don’t have to decipher handwriting, which can be a real sticking point.
But it’s not just about that. The tool also provides automatic student feedback, enables real-time collaboration, and provides simplified document management. It’s also about using the power of algorithms to understand the logic behind what students are doing, not just whether they get the answer right. We also use an intuitive interface and drag-and-drop functionality that helps students understand what’s going on with the elements of an equation.
Who will benefit most from the app?
Arismendi: Our primary audience is students and teachers, but we’ve also spoken to organizations that run after-school tutoring programs. Homeschooling families are also likely to benefit, as well as parents trying to help their children with homework but haven’t done algebra in a long time.
Is there an equity component in your work?
Deng: Yes. Studies show that getting personalized feedback is helpful, but this type of feedback tends to be either unavailable or very expensive. No matter who you are or where you’re from, our tool will give you instant feedback every step of the way to guide you to the right answer.
Me : Also, math notation is expensive, so it’s not scalable. There are nations coming out of poverty and going through transformations, and we really can’t afford to teach millions of students with tutors, like we teach the 1% here.
This is really where the current system breaks down and there is a great opportunity. Distance learning becomes a solution in itself, and we can be part of that solution. And we can scale the grading much better than one teacher grading 50 students.
What is your vision for the future?
Deng: Part of where we see this happening is a learning content marketplace for teachers. Currently, teachers spend hours a week finding or creating teaching materials. What if they were all connected to other teachers around the world? We hope to build a base for teachers to start benefiting from the work of others.
Me : Another big topic for the future is mobile. Much of the developing world will abandon the use of computers and go straight to mobile. Our dream is for students to do their homework on their phone during the train ride to school. We believe we can impact millions of people.
How did it feel to win the Edwardson SNVC, and what kind of impact will the award have?
Me : This gives us a funding track. We are a small business, so the costs add up. It also opens doors. There are a number of startup support programs that you can only access if you already have funding. So we can breathe much easier from that point of view.
But what really excites us are the connections we’ve made. There are people and judges that we will keep in touch with who not only gave us fantastic feedback, but who can help us in the future.
Arismendi: We are still in the growth phase where we are definitely looking to build more connections and relationships. So if you’d like to learn more or get involved, we’d love to hear from you.
—A version of this story was first published by the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation. To connect to together.science, send an e-mail to Gabriela Arismendi.