Pipestone Star Article for Who’s Counting™
By Kyle Kuphal (February 17, 2012)
Local teacher publishes educational math game
For original article: http://www.pipestonestar.com/Stories/Story.cfm?SID=35135
Math is hard. And the old model of drill-and-kill style for teaching does not work for every student.
That is part of what led Pipestone Area Schools teacher Craig Boeddeker to create an original educational card game called Who’s Counting™. This game helps children learn elementary math in a way that makes it entertaining and exciting.
“It was important for me to try to find some resource that would enable my students to participate in multiple constructions and reconstructions of such things as a simple math sentence,” Boeddeker stated. “To get them engaged in those, rather than it simply being drill and practice.”
That concept eventually resulted withthe idea of inventing a fun game that was “first and foremost educational, but equally as captivating” as commercial games including UNO, Monopoly or Risk, Boeddeker said.
In the game that resulted, Boeddeker said he is certain “those elements exist.”
The game includes cards with numbers and the math symbols for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Players use the numbers and symbols to get the highest score possible with a hand of seven cards.
Red “special cards” let players take away their opponent’s score, turn it negative, or steal some or all of their opponent’s points for themselves during any hand. The game is also enhanced by blue “special cards” that can double a player’s score, wildcards that can be used as numbers or operations, cards that award a player an extra turn and cards that reverse or stop an opponent’s red cards.
Boeddeker said he incorporates games into his teaching throughout his 13-year career as a way to connect with his students.
The idea for Who’s Counting™ was conceived on pages of notes that Boeddeker still has; came to life on recipe cards that he started using in his classroom five years ago; and ultimately matured into printed cards that he designed on his computer and had printed at a print shop.
In January, Who’s Counting™ advanced to publication by Teacher’s Professional Resource, LLC. out of Lakewood, Colorado, a “community of highly creative educators, designers, artists, and storytellers who have made it their mission to banish boredom from the classroom one fabulous idea at a time.”
Boeddeker was recommended to the publisher a few years ago by Caroline Marion, a former PAS teacher, who had developed and published some learning tools of her own and whose sister-in-law founded Teacher’s Professional Resource.
The publisher kept the game largely as Boeddeker designed it and added a creative story line of the Whozits — “a society based entirely on math” where “the math teachers are among the most revered of citizens.” As the Whozit story goes, one Whozit’s math error in a lab led to the creation of the damaging Green Goo and the only way to stop the goo and save the Whozits is by playing Who’s Counting™.
Who’s Counting™ is intended for players ages eight to adult and recommended for play by two or three people, or six players in teams of two. You can purchase Who’s Counting™ online at www.teachersprofessionalresource.com and Amazon.com, and Boeddeker said the publisher is working to put it on the shelves in retail outlets like Barnes & Noble and Marbles. Boeddeker is also hoping to sell the game at local stores in the near future.
While Who’s Counting™ is Boeddeker’s first published product, he is already excitedly working on a new addition called Who’s Connecting that will involve geometric concepts.
Boeddeker was also invited by Debra Hansen, Teacher’s Professional Resource CEO, to speak at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) Minnesota conference in Duluth in May 2012— an honor that was bestowed upon his daughter, Erin Lindsay, who is also a math teacher. He said he plans to talk about using a variety of teaching methods to meet the learning needs of all students equally, which is exactly the idea that launched Who’s Counting™.
Written by MO
Teacher’s Professional Resource
Debra Hansen, CEO
Debra Hansen is the head honcho and inspirational instigator of Teacher’s Professional Resource, a community of highly creative educators, designers, artists, and storytellers make it their mission to banish boredom from classrooms and households one fantastic idea at a time.
Long ago, in a classroom very far, far away, Debra was a music teacher who loved to look for the mathematics in music— she was good at stuff like counting, recognizing patterns, and dividing by four. She was so great at math, in fact, that she eventually left the music classroom to become CFO of an international software company, but she never quite forgot about music, math and teaching. One fateful day, she balanced her books for the last time and left corporate America to start Teacher’s Professional Resource, an exceptional company that provides parents, teachers, and kids with inventive tools for encouraging successful learners.
MO: What motivated you to start Teacher’s Professional Resource? Did you have an “a-ha experience?”
Debra: After many years spent traveling internationally for my corporate job, I was tired. I loved that life and I learned so much, but I was working crazy hours and changing into someone I hardly recognized. So I knew it was time to put away my battered suitcases, reintroduce myself to my very patient husband, and stop moving long enough to consider my future.
At this time, the national discussion about education was gaining serious momentum with what I felt was an emphasis on the wrong results. As a corporate leader, I am a supporter of accountability, but I know standardized tests can’t measure the qualities that I, through observations made during my traveling days, had come to realize were the biggest advantages offered by the U.S. educational system: creativity, problem solving, and collaboration.
I saw a need for highly creative educational products that would supplement and reinforce what is already right about the U.S. educational system, and started a company that could provide them. We went to work creating our initial product, a math game we call Who’s Counting™. The game is so fun to play, kids don’t even realize they’re practicing their math facts. Who’s Counting™ features the math loving Whozits™ and their exciting adventures in the world of Wherezit™. Who says math can’t be fun?
MO: How was it to transition from working for an international software firm to founding your educational game and resource company? What was the most challenging part of this transition process, and conversely, the most rewarding?
Debra: I discovered there are things I really know well and things I know absolutely nothing about! Because of my work in a software company, I knew how to complete projects on a strict time budget. I knew how to work with international vendors, which became crucial when we learned we would not be able to manufacture the game in the US. I knew our products would ultimately need to be sold globally if we wanted it to be successful.
I did not understand how inefficient it is to operate with only one resource: me. Early on, I contracted with a smart young consultant and it was the best decision I’ve made for the company, to date. I had no understanding that limited resources of all kinds would be such a challenge. I have now become good at “making do.” My corporate jobs spanned managerial roles in IT, finance, manufacturing, and also sales, but in running a small start-up company, there seemed to be an endless collection of jobs to be done that I had no experience in and no choice but to master rapidly. This constant accumulation of new skills appeals to my love of learning, but some days I think I have learned just about enough!
MO: Can you tell our readers how looking for fun, passionate, creative people to help build your company turned into a mentorship opportunity?
Debra: To create creative, engaging products like Who’s Counting™ I need unique team members, young adults for whom college hadn’t fully erased the “kid” inside of them, creative thinkers with an intuitive connection to what kids would respond to. Because I cared more about the creative contributions a person could bring to the company than the accomplishments on their resume, I ended up surrounded by extremely bright but mostly inexperienced young adults. I realized I needed to devote an extra measure of time and attention to acclimating them to the business environment and the almost universally new experiences and tasks facing them.It’s been completely worth it to be able to see these extraordinarily talented and very responsible young people succeed. I always express confidence in their abilities and always remind them that this business works because of their efforts. When they make an error, I remind myself that business is more like chaos theory than a regression analysis, and then I encourage them to try again.
MO: Can you tell us about the games you have been working on and how you’ve been able to bring your ideas to life on just a shoestring budget?
Debra: The game Who’s Counting™ is only the start of the products that will feature the Whozits™. We knew playing Who’s Counting™ would improve kids’ math skills, but we needed something to get them excited about trying the game. Our artist/scientist created some line drawings of round-bellied characters named Whozits™ and we knew we had the start of a brand. New Whozit™ characters seem to leap out of our imaginations every day. Faster than a speeding bisector, more powerful than a logarithm, and able to leap whole numbers in a single bound, Captain Mathinator is our resident superhero. The Sneaky Subtractor loves subtraction so much that he occasionally subtracts things that belong to others. (Humans call it stealing.) These characters and dozens more are appearing in artwork, books, kid-friendly web content for our Teacher’s Professional Resource website, and other projects that are in development and fast approaching completion. The Whozits™’ neighbors, the Muzits™, are working hard on “Awesome, I am Multiplying,” a CD of multiplication facts set to familiar songs.
It is critical to minimize costs when you’re only a start-up; one of the most expensive things to pay for is advice. With much trepidation, I went to a counselor at the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and was thrilled to find extraordinarily experienced mentors there to help me in my endeavors. The consultants at the Denver Small Business Development Center (SBDC) have also helped me fill in gaps in my business knowledge. I have gotten marketing, sales, planning, tax, and start-up advice that I never could have afforded without these organizations.
MO: How have you managed to assemble a network of very creative designers, educators, artists, and storytellers and how have they influenced the development and design of your products?
Debra: Networking is the critical term here. People love to tell you about special people they know of, and if you are really paying attention, you eventually hear about some of the gems of humanity.
I begin by searching for people who are actually smart, not just good at working the system. This recession has made it more difficult even for talented young people to find employment, but so much easier for me to find these smart young people! This generation of college grads wants more than just an entry-level office job. They want opportunities to use all of their creative talents without the baggage of office politics and climbing the corporate ladder.
I have found extraordinary talent in graduates from the International Baccalaureate program at Lakewood High School. They’ve gone to college and are ready to do fantastic work, but most companies can see only their inexperience, not their talent. I know enough about basic business for all of us, this allows me to afford to let them exercise their creativity in an unfettered way. I’ve also found that previously home-schooled kids have wonderful discipline and creativity. Once I have screened for intelligence and creativity, I tell my story and see if they can catch the spirit of this company. If they are able, I’m willing to take a chance. Once they’re here, everyone is encouraged to contribute in any way they feel inspired to. If the writer has a suggestion for the artist, share it. If the business guy has a clever line for the writer, throw it out there. You close yourself off from potential ideas when you put people in boxes.
MO: What are the most exciting things coming up for Teacher’s Professional Resource in 2012?
Debra: Teacher’s Professional Resource launched our math game, Who’s Counting™, on Amazon.com in late November 2011 and to our surprise, although we had done absolutely no advance marketing of the product, people started ordering it immediately. That felt really good. This year, in addition to “Who’s Counting™” supplemental materials for teachers featuring the Whozits™, we will launch at least two new products. The “Awesome, I Am Multiplying” CD will be available on Amazon.com, iTunes, and through retail stores starting in April 2012. We haven’t announced our second new product yet, so readers will have to watch our website, for that upcoming announcement.
We will be exhibiting at the NSSEA’s Ed Expo in Baltimore in March, the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics in May, and several other events throughout the year. Those events should bring us more exposure and help us meet our goal of being in 30+ stores by year’s end. We’ll also begin our effort to break into the Canadian market.
Finally, this company would not exist without the ideas and inspiration of dedicated teachers. We’ll be establishing teacher connections during the summer to continue the expansion of our product line through teacher ideas. It’ll be a full year, but helping kids succeed in school is worth the effort. Who’s Counting™ is just the beginning!