From Singapore Math Teacher to Global Educational Game Platform Founder

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[Image Credit: TheEdgeMarkets.com ] John Ng Wei Chong, CEO of Zap Zap Math (sitting, right) with Adam Goh I-Ming, COO (standing, left)

Of late, Zap Zap Math has been galvanizing forces to complete big improvements for its newest gamified math platform version release. This was timed to be ready at the start of the new school year in the United States. We managed to hijack some time from CEO, John Ng’s crazy schedule to delve into the story and inspiration behind Zap Zap Math, and its fast-track startup journey. Here are some golden nuggets of wisdom from the founder, hacker and former teacher: on mathematics, education technology (EdTech), his ultimate math hero, Pokemon, and more…
 

1. What inspired you to start Zap Zap Math? Start from the beginning…

Ng: My passion for teaching mathematics began as a tutor in Singapore (2001). As a high school student in secondary four, I was teaching secondary three pupils math. It was then that I discovered: I could teach pretty well and really enjoyed it.

Fast forward to 2004 and my passion became a realization: I took up a teaching position at the River Valley High School (Singapore). By the way, I had graduated with an engineering degree, but became a teacher in my first job! Around that time, computer applications were just being introduced into classrooms to facilitate learning and I began observing how students interacted with the new software.

Students would learn how to solve algebra using the computer software. But the problem was—it was slow, hampered progress. The user experience was so poor, it would have been easier to just use pen and paper! I saw this huge learning gap in education and technology and set out to solve it.

2. So, as a former math teacher in Singapore, how have your early work experiences (good or bad) shaped Zap Zap Math’s product development?

Ng: Before Zap Zap Math, I was using interactive videos staged on my website to teach kids math. My stance then was: technology is the primary way to solve education problems. But I realized I got my priorities wrong, education always comes first. Technology acts as the facilitator and accelerator. Meaning, parents and teachers’ active involvement is indispensable, teaching in itself is compulsory—but technology can enable you to teach students more effectively, using much less time and effort.

3. What has been your happiest/proudest achievement to date, in terms of Zap Zap Math?

Ng: Building the MVP (minimum viable product) in 2014 with my two startup co-founders at 1337 Accelerator. I felt that that was the beginning of real condensed change leading to where we are now. We were a lean team initially, comprised of a hacker, game designer, and writer. And we didn’t have all the answers then either, that we do now, but those were fun, challenging and creative trial days for us—learning from each other in a close, accelerated way.

4. What are your thoughts on Common Core’s importance in today’s teaching methods, since all your games are mapped to US state standards?

Ng: Common Core (US state standards) requires students to understand the fundamentals of mathematics early on, from kindergarten stage. It focuses on logical thinking and reasoning of math concepts. So when students move on to higher, more complicated levels (in middle or high school)—they’ve built a solid infrastructure. Most of us Asians learn by rote and may not really understand nor question the reasoning behind things. Common Core encourages kids to enquire on how to solve math problems, and this, I believe, will build a future generation that’s able to think outside the box, and even create new jobs for the 21st century. I believe a lot of the jobs that we see now would not exist 10 to 20 years later, and we need to prepare our children to think critically and adapt to a rapidly changing landscape.
 

Recently, a friend mentioned that he was “PokeConsulting” business owners who were willing to spend big marketing budgets to hire Pokemon trainers. The objective: to lure more people into their business premises! Ever thought a job description like this would have existed years ago?

5. What do you hope to achieve for Zap Zap Math?

Ng: My number one mission is to help kids close all their knowledge gaps from K-to-6 and have fun doing so—thereby building the strong fundamentals required to learn advanced math. I also want to create a math platform that gets teachers and parents actively involved, and makes it easier for them to help them improve kids’ math skills, by employing engaging games-based learning and connected monitoring tools like analytics and dashboard reports.
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John Ng Wei Chong, CEO of Zap Zap Math (far left) with his hero Coach Po Shen Loh and CMO Beverly Bavani Veeriah.

6. Do you have a math hero? Someone you’d love to work with to extend Zap Zap Math’s reach. Who and why?

Ng: Coach Po-Shen Loh, coach for the US International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) Team. Under his expert coaching, the US team placed first at the IMO world championship mathematics competition for two years in a row. More than 100 countries competed in this year’s competition in July. US team’s last win was in 1994, a long gap! My dream is to have my hero, coach Po on our board of advisors. We both have a similar long-term vision, to provide young students today with problem-solving and critical thinking skills that will help them do well in high school, college and their professional lives. So I think coach Po would be a fitting value add for Zap Zap Math!

7. Any takeaway message of encouragement you’d like to leave for teachers/educators like yourself out there?

Ng: Don’t be afraid of using technology to complement your teaching because it’s getting easier to adopt it. Because of technology, your scope and reach goes beyond the classroom walls, as you can impact other educators and children around the world, faster. Take for an example, a teacher from a rural area can use lesson plans created by another teacher from the other side of the world to help his students.
 
9 out of 10 teachers and parents say that it helps improves kids’ math skills. If you’re a teacher or supervisor who would love to pilot Zap Zap Math in your school, do write in to us at beverly@zapzapmath.com and we’ll get in touch with you. Download Zap Zap Math here today for smartphone or tablet.

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