“Science class is basically vocabulary class today.” That’s Keith Schacht, cofounder of Mystery Science, a startup coming out of stealth today.
He says kids figure out by the sixth grade whether they like science or not, and it’s important to find a way to break away from these vocabulary classes and hook more kids into science before they reach that critical age.
Could this startup help solve the lack to technically skilled workers desperately needed in our current marketplace?
Although Mystery Science isn’t claiming to be that solution, it plans to provide elementary school teachers with easy, yet highly engaging science lessons. It’s starting with third grade science, mainly because its founders consistently received enthusiastic responses from those teachers.
In short, Mystery Science creates open-and-go science lessons that teachers can easily present to their students. Each lesson is centered around a mystery, or science question, that teachers first prompt students to ponder and discuss, then explore and solve through an activity. The lessons materials are all online, and only require a television, projector, Internet connection, and common classroom supplies.
Mystery Science’s founders are Schacht, a serial entrepreneur and former Facebook product manager, and Doug Peltz, a former science teacher and science director at LePort schools. Dozens of teachers have been privately testing the lessons.
“Ultimately, I want to increase the amount of technological innovation. There’s a certain mindset that we think we’re developing in people, but we’re not,” said Schacht in an interview with VentureBeat.
He pointed out that much of what others in the education space have been working on has to do with the way knowledge and content are delivered, not so much the content itself. Just think of massive open online courses (MOOCs); they made content available where it wasn’t before thanks to free (though sometimes not) technology, but that’s all the hype is about.
“Not enough people are working on what is being taught, they’re working on how its being delivered. I think most people are working on raising the average. We’re more focused on raising the bar,” said Schacht.
Another important point Schacht raised is that, “It’s just in the last few years that we can count on every classroom in America having a TV, a projector and an Internet connection.” It could be difficult to expect technical aspirations and innovation from students in classrooms that lack using basic technology.
Mystery Science is not alone in tackling the education content problem. As we previously covered, Code.org, an organization focused on promoting computer science education in public schools, has also caught on to the fact that unless and until teachers are equipped to teach a subject (and to do it effectively), that subject will have no impact on students and the professionals they will choose to become. Among other things, Code.org has developed a computer science curriculum schools can implement, and even provides free training to teachers to ensure the course is available in schools.
As of today, Mystery Science is open to signups from interested teachers, and the first 5,000 folks will get a full unit of material for free. The company plans to have a full year’s material for the third grade finished by the end of this summer.
Mystery Science raised seed funding from Learn Capital, NewSchools Venture, 500 Startups, and LePort, although it declined to disclose the amount. The company is based in San Francisco.