Episode 010

How The Art Of Problem Solving Formed A Curriculum Around The Skill Of All Skills

Many parents would likely agree that their education did not adequately prepare them for the real world.

In order to save their children from the same outcome, parents often choose education organizations that focus on highly relevant skills. They want their children to learn the most critical skills for tomorrow’s workforce. An organization that specializes in fulfilling this need would almost certainly have a major competitive edge. But how can that organization be so sure that its students will be successful, regardless of what tomorrow’s workforce looks like?

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • Why parents are concerned about traditional education processes
  • The skills elementary schools should emphasize in marketing materials
  • How disruptive organizations can get the word out

This week, I spoke to Grayson Mass, who is the Chief Communications Officer and Vice President of Sales for the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS). AoPS Academy started as an online school in 2003 and has since expanded to ten physical learning centers. Approximately 17,000 students are currently enrolled in AoPS online courses, with 7,000 enrolled in their physical locations. AoPS also writes, publishes and distributes its own textbooks and software. While traditional education revolves around rote memorization, AoPS gives students the mental tools required for solving unfamiliar challenges in any subject area.

Why Rote Memorization Is Losing Relevance

Today’s parents want their children to be more prepared for the challenges lying ahead. Well, one of the biggest challenges of virtually any job is unfamiliar problems with no clear solution. It’s inevitable: Regardless of which job you end up in, you’re going to face tasks that take you out of your comfort zone. Conquering these obstacles requires confidence, creativity, perseverance, and patience. You can’t give up when your first tries don’t work.

Rote memorization, however, only teaches children to apply what they already know. Jobs that don’t involve new challenges can be filled by robots, and are therefore expected to be phased out in the near future. This is why AoPS’s primary focus is teaching students how to react to new challenges. The curriculum’s alternative approach to math encourages out-of-the-box thinking and experimentation. Students often have to test out multiple types of solutions before finding the answer. This takes time, but the most critical challenges cannot be solved right away.

Turning Math Into A Comic Book Adventure

It’s natural to question AoPS’s learning model. Kids hate math, right? What could possibly make them want take on increasingly challenging problems? AoPS turns math into an adventure with Beast Academy, an educational comic book series that has become a smash hit at elementary schools across the US. Kids love Beast Academy so much, Grayson said, that they sometimes ask their teachers to skip recess so they can continue learning.

Beast Academy’s success proves that contrary to popular belief, elementary school students are hungry for challenging tasks. They want to solve puzzles and are resilient enough to not get frustrated. Organizations just have to portray the tasks in an engaging manner that couldn’t be more different than a traditional textbook.

How AoPS Connects With Skeptical Parents

As for promotional strategies, AoPS builds buzz through two methods. First is word of mouth referrals, which come in spades when your organization produces real results. The second method is speaking tours, which AoPS conducts before opening new physical locations. These events typically begin by posing questions to the parents in attendance, like “How many of you often face new problems at work?” or “When you face a new problem, how many of you get it right on your first try?”

Welcome to marketing 101: Don’t lead by talking about your product; talk about the problem it solves. AoPS connects with local parents by establishing the importance of being able to conquer new challenges. This is followed by the assurance that if children can acquire this skill, they’ll succeed at anything in life.

Everyone Just Wants To Be More Prepared

It seems that parents of elementary school students aren’t too different than college students. Their main concern is making sure they choose an organization that understands the requirements of the workforce. Education marketers must show parents and students that their organizations can provide a sense of certainty as we move towards an increasingly uncertain future.

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