The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing fellowships to Ph.D. candidates in the fields of applied physics, biology and engineering, announced on Monday that its Newman Entrepreneurial Fund had awarded a $25,000 inaugural grant to a project that aims to reinvent the idea of the traditional textbook, inspired by the increasing use of iPads and other E-books by students.
That project is called School Yourself. Founded by Zach Wissner-Gross and John Lee, who both studied physics at MIT and went on to continue their studies at Harvard and MIT respectively, the company is creating high school- and college-level electronic textbooks for math and science that are fully interactive. Its approach, according to School Yourself’s official website, puts a heavy emphasis on step-by-step guidance and easy-to-understand visual demos that make learning less confusing and more interactive, almost like having a virtual tutor at your fingertips. Its first book, titled “Trigonometry,” includes over 70 video lessons and 30 hands-on interactive features imbedded in the book. That makes for nearly five hours of animated video total.
In the company’s bio on the Harvard Innovation lab’s website, School Yourself says that it is creating textbooks for a new generation—the one that is “accustomed to interactive gaming and captivating media.” With students increasingly using social media and video in their everyday lives, School Yourself is finding a way to adapt to the changing times and present learning to this generation in a format that is more familiar. The standard 600-page book with more text than images is not very appealing to (or effective for) everyone.
Besides being clear and simple, School Yourself books are, first and foremost, making sure that learning is fun. Citing “unimaginative” early efforts in the electronic textbook market, School Yourself says that it aims to “provide a fun and immersive learning experience” that will be worthy in itself rather than simply be a supplementary version of original textbooks.
Co-Founder Wissner-Gross found inspiration for the electronic books because, as a Harvard teaching fellow, he realized that games captivate students and motivate them to be engaged, according to the Harvard Crimson.
So far, two books—”Trigonometry” and “Hands-On Precalculus“—are for sale in the Apple iBookstore. “Trigonometry” is available at a wildly affordable $4.99, and “Precalculus” is free. The next book to be rolled out is “Hands-on Calculus,” available soon.