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Taos firm gets $1M grant to create online middle-school math game

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Middle-school students may soon learn math skills by building empires in ancient Mesopotamia, thanks to a $1.05 million federal grant for a Taos-based company.

Imagine Education, which develops online games that use story telling to teach middle schoolers about math, will use the Small Business Innovation Research grant to create a new game called Empires.

“The game is set in ancient Mesopotamia at the dawn of civilization,” said company co-founder Scott Laidlaw. “Each student is a ruler who builds their own empire, and they learn math skills along the way.”

Imagine Education, which launched in 2009, developed its online story-telling approach to math with its first game, called Ko’s Journey. That game, which is now used in about 150 middle schools nationwide, follows a Native American girl whose village has been attacked. As Ko progresses along her path to reach safety and reunite with her family, she must solve a variety of problems that include simple functions such as multiplication and division, as well as more complex situations that involve graphs and pre-algebra concepts.

The company previously won a $500,000 grant in 2011 from the Bill & Melinda Gates and the William and Flora Hewlett foundations to accelerate adoption of Ko’s Journey in middle schools.

The company’s games aim to stem what’s known as the “mid school math cliff” — a pronounced drop in math skills that occurs in middle school, Laidlaw said.

The company is partnering with Santa Fe Public Schools to organize a national conference in March to help educators attack the math cliff problem.

The New Mexico Technology Council chose Imagine Education for one of its annual technology excellence awards in 2011.

“The company has really hit on something that appeals to kids while teaching math in a relevant way,” said Council Executive Director Eric Renz-Whitmore.