Our mission is to bring about lasting change in education through the creation of powerful learning games. We believe that you don’t have to sacrifice learning content to make something fun!
In October of 2012, while I was completing my Master's degree in Digital Game Development from SMU, I volunteered as a tutor at the Saigling Elementary School in Plano Texas. I was asked to tutor Math to a student named Elijah. Elijah had recently changed school districts and like many students who experience a disruption in their early education, he fell behind. You can imagine he wasn't terribly excited to do another round of math just as the kids were getting out of school. To keep him engaged in the work, we turned to learning games. We tried everything from cards to iPad games, but nothing seemed to keep his interest for more than a few days.
We must have gone through a dozen math games before it hit me. It wasn't Elijah's lack of attention that made him lose interest. Those math games were simply NOT designed to hold a child's attention for more than 10 minutes. Another fatal flaw in ALL of these games is that they didn't make the concepts any easier to understand than regular paper and pencil problems.
In December while planning a lesson for Elijah, I tried to think of something that would help him envision numbers the way I do when doing arithmetic in my head. When doing basic math, I imagine combinations of numbers with actual height value and then I stack those numbers to find the sum. I am obsessed with combining numbers to create 10, something that helps break down problems quickly. After examining these aspects I realized that the skills involved in simplifying problems were all based on stacking numbers and understanding how they relate to each other. Taking these concepts and applying them to a stacking game seemed to fit building blocks extremely well. I expressed my new found concept to Elijah's teacher, Ms. Martinez. She said that it sounded like a really great idea and that’s when I began designing SumBlox.
In January of 2013, I began cutting SumBlox prototypes out of wood in my father's garage in Utah. I returned to Texas in March and went back to Saigling Elementary School with a few sets of SumBlox. Of course, Elijah was the first student to review them. I think the most rewarding part of creating SumBlox was seeing his interest in the blocks and watching him work out fraction problems with genuine interest and curiosity. With the help of the Principal Latimer, SumBlox was tested in a couple of classrooms until the end of the school year, at which point she introduced me to a seasoned 4th grade teacher named Kelly to help adapt our games into curriculum.
After a year of hard work, SumBlox was launched on Kickstarter in October of 2014 endorsed by Keith Devlin and an article in Forbe’s magazine by Jordan Shapiro. The rest is history.
David Skaggs & Elijah