With all the negative talk on the United States education system, there are a lot of parents out there fearful that, even if their children are at the top of the class, they will still get left behind by an education system that no longer pushes kids to love learning. As a father of three, Dr. Raj Shah, founder and owner of Ohio based Math Plus Academy, felt this strongly and left his position at Intel to start his own business.
“It got to a point at Intel where I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do for my whole life. It was cool being in R&D and on the cutting edge of technology, but I didn’t want to get locked into my position there,” Raj told me.
“When I was in middle school and the teacher was teaching a new math concept, I would always think to myself, ‘I want to remember what it’s like not to understand this so I’ll know how to teach it to other people who don’t understand it.’”
After 8 years at Intel, Raj took a 2 month sabbatical and thought about his middle school self. “I noticed how much money I spent on my own kids to supplement what their education gave them and decided to open an academic enrichment center. Two and a half years later, I started Math Plus Academy on my own and we’ve been growing ever since.”
BREAKING AWAY TO START HIS OWN BUSINESS
Many people live in the camp of job dissatisfaction. Some new survey or poll comes out almost weekly to prove this to us as though the fact needed more evidence. But those same people who claim job dissatisfaction might be missing the point.
“Life is what you make of it,” Raj said. “A lot of people get caught up in finding themselves and assume something will happen to them to help them on that path. But, my philosophy is that you have to go after something. Find something that has a purpose and you’re somewhat passionate about (purpose is a bit more important than passion, in my opinion) and actually go for it.” In order to make it work for his family, they cut back costs when Raj left Intel, sold their house, and moved in with his parents.
To those in that job dissatisfaction camp, this may sound like a song you’ve heard before or like the over preached advice to go for your dreams. But it’s not. It may not bat away your worries about the risk you’re running by doing your own thing, but “Most people overestimate risk,” Raj says. “And if you ask the elderly what their biggest regrets are it’s typically not taking an opportunity.”
So all of you not satisfied at work, the biggest risk may just be not taking one.
WHAT’S THE MAIN AREA FOR IMPROVEMENT IN THE US EDUCATION SYSTEM?
“In education,” Raj said, “the pendulum always seems to swing pretty hard and stick in one direction. Right now we’ve swung far into data driven side and as such are missing the point of lighting the fire under kids to love learning.”
The data driven obsession has created the problem where we’re no longer teaching how to learn but rather just relaying knowledge, which can be useless if someone doesn’t know how to build upon it with further learning.
“In 2013, there has never been a better time to love learning. Knowledge is everywhere so educators’ jobs need to be to get kids motivated and finding their purposes,” he said. “Parents play a big role in this too. As a father, I’m ‘outsourcing’ to the school for facts, but solving problems and the emotional intelligence understanding, those are the pieces a parent should take on.”
At Math Plus Academy, they keep the fire lit by presenting the kids with interesting, actual problems versus exercises that have been completed and answered hundreds of times before. “Of course they need the basic skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc., but here we bring them together to solve problems.
“And it isn’t just any problem,” Raj said. “People like a challenge, but it has to be doable. We try to make our problems scale like a video game that raises you up one level at a time so your skill matches the difficulty while keeping it challenging.”
As the hero can fail a level in a video game, so a person can get a math question wrong. “In math, there is a right answer, so another thing we work with is making it safe to fail. We get the kids here comfortable with having wrong answers in order to persevere to find the right ones.”
MATH PLUS ACADEMY’S USE OF ONLINE SCHEDULING
TimeTap supports two aspects of Math Plus Academy’s offerings thus far: Homework help and initial assessments. “It makes it so much easier to get people in for business and appointments,” Raj told me. “The reminders go out automatically and it takes that worry off my mind.”
Most of Math Plus Academy’s business is driven by word of mouth. 75% of their new business will just schedule online without calling ahead of time. “In 2013, I think the ability to schedule online is something people expect. Parents might have to schedule for their kids at 11:00pm and most businesses aren’t taking phone calls at that time.”
Math Plus Academy has been a TimeTap user since June 2012.