Technology

Kansas City startup sneaks homework into a video game

Video games for homework

Edcoda, a Kansas City-based startup, has found a way to embed math homework into an online video game called Coda Quest that students want to play.
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Edcoda, a Kansas City-based startup, has found a way to embed math homework into an online video game called Coda Quest that students want to play.

Clarence Tan is from San Francisco and lived many of his formative years in Asia, including five in Singapore.

When it came to college, his parents favored someplace boring so their son would focus on study. Hello, Kansas City.

A UMKC degree in business administration later, he’s still here as chief executive of a startup that embeds math homework into an online video game that elementary and middle schoolers want to play.

It’s called Coda Quest.

Teachers have introduced the game to students in 100 classrooms, mostly in Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Florida under a free 90-day trial. The idea is for students to play Coda Quest at home to supplement class work and homework assignments.

So far, the game is available only on PCs and Macs, but iPad and Chromebook versions are coming.

The business plan is to demonstrate that the game educates and to sell Coda Quest to schools on a per-student basis. Right now, it’s about exposure.

“Just let us in, white list our software and work out a deal,” Tan told his audience during a 1 Million Cups presentation Wednesday.

Kicked out of school

Coda Quest wasn’t Tan’s first gaming effort.

While attending the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he started working with friends to create a video game.

They settled on the less-traveled road of educational gaming. The entrepreneurs built traditionally styled education games and won a contract with schools in Colombia in South America.

“Students weren’t enjoying it,” Tan said. “There wasn’t much usage.”

So they spiced it up. Hack and slash. Monster slaying.

Cool, but not compatible with school.

“Kids loved it,” Tan said. “But then we got kicked out of schools.”

Sniff test

Early last year, Tan formed Edcoda LLC, which has seven employees in its River Market offices. Its game, Coda Quest, pursues a more peaceful mix of game and work.

Players build and cast spells to battle. Players also can gather fish, chop wood or mine materials, create costumes, build tools and keep pets to play Coda Quest.

In each pursuit, they’re confronted with math questions about once per minute or minute and a half. Get it right and the spell works or the fishing pole remains strong.

Coda Quest offers a struggling student the chance to review the math lesson videos behind the questions. An algorithm sets the difficulty of questions based on a student’s progress. Teachers can track all students and get specific alerts about those who struggle.

Edcoda developed the questions, under a grant from Digital Sandbox KC, to meet states’ educational standards. Teachers can drop in their own math questions or lesson videos if they prefer.

Still ahead: an “efficacy study” through four schools, more player interaction within the game and topics beyond math.

The key will be keeping Coda Quest fun so students won’t get hung up on the educational element.

“Students will sniff that out instantly, and they won’t want to play it,” Tan said.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, @mdkcstar

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