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KnowRe: Making Math Problems Smarter

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Today, Korean startup KnowRe announced $1.4 million in funding from SoftBank Ventures Korea to help them bring their smart math education tool to the United States, soon after winning Google’s Global K-Startup Competition.

Traditional math problems are problematic because they’re so complex. Take this simple algebra problem:

x/2 + 2/3 = 2

Even here, you need to know a handful of concepts: least common denominator, multiplication, and inverse operations, among others. If a student gets this problem wrong on a traditional math program, we don’t know why.

“Other products … can tell you did the student get it right or wrong, but what they can’t tell you is what concept caused that student to get it right or wrong,” explains Joo. The program would have to analyze multiple questions and see what concepts overlap to finally have an idea why the student is struggling.

To speed this up, KnowRe breaks problems down into their components. For the problem above, it would first ask you to find the least common denominator for 2 and 3. If you’re still stuck, you can get a hint and even watch a video on that concept. It’s like the technological equivalent of “showing your work” (and one of the reasons teachers insist you do so).

KnowRe will then generate problems that let you practice least common denominator, one of 800 math concepts they’ve identified.

The company will use its funding to launch a free open beta in the United States in the first quarter of 2013. While parents can set up accounts for their children, the big goal is to get a toehold in middle schools and high schools for 8-10th grade algebra.

Joo is quick to explain that he doesn’t want to replace teachers, just make them more efficient. Teachers can’t possibly give individual attention to a class of 30 students. But if students complete KnowRe exercises at home, teachers will have a better clue about what to teach in class, and who needs which assignments.

Joo realized the need for KnowRe while running a Korean hagwon, a private “cram school” where hordes of Koreans study late into the night to get ahead of their peers. As their hagwon grew, it became harder and harder to offer individual instruction. Joo hopes to someday bring KnowRe to Korea – where his team is based – but knows it will be hard.

“In Korea, and with most societies, the mother really dominates the child’s educational process. In Korea, generally speaking, mothers view the computer as a gaming tool as opposed to a potential learning tool,” explains Joo.

Luckily for him, most American parents will be relieved that their children are learning – computer or no computer.

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About the Author

Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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