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XYFlyer, an interactive produced by Jared Cosulich was accepted to the Innovation Math Challenge. Read about Jared who plays the role of developer, designer and programmer.
 
Tell us about yourself. What are some of your hobbies, what drew you to the challenge?
 
I spent 10-15 years doing internet start ups. Most of that time I spent programming. For the last 4 years I’ve also become very curious and passionate about education, exploring it from every angle I could find and trying to build better educational resources, mostly resembling games.
 
As a kid I was pretty passionate about programming, but I never really pursued it in school. I think I was worried about looking too nerdy. After college, though, I realized how much I enjoyed programming and decided to teach myself everything I could, move to Silicon Valley, get a job, and eventually create a company. 
 
For me, as a self-taught programmer and entrepreneur the process of self directed learning really ignited a love of learning. That love of learning eventually led me to explore education. Now I’m exploring all aspects of education, ranging from learning, motivation, discipline, autonomy, etc. There’s a lot to explore. The educational games are just one aspect I’m interested in.
 
Did you like math growing up?
 
Yes and no. When I was in elementary school I was doing well, and by the time I got to Middle School I was taking 7th grade math in 6th grade, but as I continued I think I became disenchanted with it. I ended up taking the BC calculus to get the most college credit possible, allowing me to skip all math in college so I’d never have to take it again. So despite enjoying it for most of my childhood and being relatively good at it, I decided I never wanted to take it again.
 
Now I really appreciate math and use it frequently in designing games. The self-directed nature of my current learning drew me back in. Recently, I’ve been relearning calculus and exploring it out of fun and educational curiosity.
 
In general math is the most famous topic that people struggle with. It’s a shame for people to get convinced they are bad at it. I think we put too much pressure on everyone excelling at math. There is a lot of value in math, but it takes effort and vision for that effort to become anything practical. I’d love to figure out ways to make mathematics more accessible, but I also think it’s important to recognize that there is a lot of value in many other subjects.
 
What were you aiming to accomplish with XYFlyer’s design?
 
I was trying to capture this element of a trial and error environment where you can see the interactions of these components as they form an equation. The goal is to really learn through exploration – no need for time pressure or buzzers, just trying to solve a puzzle through iteration. Students make progress towards a goal and in the process they understand and learn more effectively. That’s what you’re trying to capture that in design.
 
How would you like students to use XYFlyer?
 
As a novel experience, XYFlyer takes a different approach to learning about linear expressions, how they work and what they do. The more novel experiences, the more you gain a deeper understanding. It’s about seeing things from multiple perspectives. How they graph out and what that means. It’s fun and interesting, and combined with other novel experiences, it can facilitate a deeper understanding. You feel your brain being challenged and I think that challenge can be enjoyable. Make learning more about the way you appreciate a good run or a workout. You have to want this and people do want it. They want to grow as individuals. There exists an underlying desire to learn more, understand better, and grow as an individual.
 
How have the expectations for creating a good asset evolved with the evolution of modern technology?
 
It always evolves but I don’t think it’s linear, yielding bigger, better, and stronger; I think they want more nuanced – very convoluted. XYFlyer serves as an example of an advancement that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago since it was created in HTML5 and JavaScript. The changes are not only tech changes, but also understanding tech; how we use it, appreciate it. Meanwhile some games have been around for decades and maintain their value even as the technology improves. Tetris, for example, is still played by millions of people in its original form – things change and stay the same.
 
What are your thoughts on teaching math through technology?
 
Math lends itself to technology in that it most of math is part of some system that you can effectively capture with a computer. There is structure, rules that are easy for the computer to work with. With XYFlyer, it wasn’t overly challenging to capture the system. An interactive game is worth a thousand pictures. It allows you to see the whole system at one time and how various components interact with each other so you can see the ripple effects. In XYFlyer you might make a change in an equation and you immediately see how the graph changes. So you can get a visual representation of that equation immediately.
 
I think it can help you understand how the whole system works more effectively. Technology can facilitate that with math and science most effectively because there are strict rules involved. A good example of this is a flight simulator. Without a computer you wouldn’t be able to see what happens by pulling the wheel back or moving it forward. It’s one thing to read about it, it’s a completely different thing to try it and experience what happens by testing the boundaries (if you pull back far enough you actually stall out).
 
What advice do you have for individuals creating educational media?
 
The standard thing for me is trying to find out what I enjoy, which is very difficult to do in an educational game.  As soon as you understand something it becomes almost impossible to remember what it felt like to not know.
 
When I first built XYFlyer, people played the first level and got frustrated. I had to go simpler. Beta testing is important, it always blows my mind how unique the responses are. Once you understand how something works it is extremely difficult to go back. You have to be an expert to build it and understand it fairly cohesively, however, once you learn you lose to touch with the “learner” perspective. It becomes tricky to create a truly enjoyable learning experience.
 
To see more from The Puzzle School, visit http://puzzleschool.com
 





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