Alumni Profile

7 Generation Games: Improving educational outcomes for children in underserved communities

Improving educational outcomes for children in underserved communities

A startup is using customized video games to teach math and other subjects

7 Generation Games is taking an innovative approach to teaching math and other subjects by meeting the students where they spend much of their time — on their computers and tablets.

7 Generation Games was initially founded with the goal of improving educational outcomes for students in Indigenous and Latino communities by developing engaging, educational video games that teach math. “We started out with the goal of meeting the needs of underserved, under-resourced and overlooked communities, the kinds of kids and schools and communities that no one else is building educational technology for,” said Maria Burns Ortiz, co-founder and chief executive officer of 7 Generation Games.

“Schools in these communities are not getting the same focus and resources as other more affluent schools. It’s a huge disservice because these schools are often underperforming and yet are given little resources.”

“They’re expected to do more with less,” she said.

In a few short years, the company has developed more than a dozen games and is now making their game development platform available so that others can create their own custom instructional games that are representative of the communities in which they are being used.

Making Learning Fun

Burns Ortiz and her co-founders thought video games would be a productive approach for education due to the attitude kids have toward them. Learning through video games seems to remove a sense of fear of failure that might inhibit students’ engagement in more typical interactions in the classroom.

In addition, when learning math or another subject in a video game, children tend to benefit from a sense of slow-but-steady progress that they might not receive in a traditional educational setting. Kids “will take the failures they see in a game and will learn from having failed in the last go around and apply that knowledge to get incrementally further in the next level,” Burns Ortiz said.

Indeed, Burns Ortiz recognized that she and her colleagues were on to something when she saw her daughter immersed in her tablet one evening. The activity capturing her attention was a game created by 7 Generation Games.

While the games must be enjoyable to keep students engaged, data reporting and assessment are also extremely important components of an educational game. Educators need user information to be sure that the experience is resulting in a positive impact for students.

Their approach seems to be working. In one study, children who played a 7 Generation Games activity saw a 30% improvement in learning in the first 10 weeks of using it, which was three times the rate of improvement students in the control group experienced over the same period, according to the company’s research.

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Maria Burns Ortiz

Co-founder & CEO
7 Generation Games

AnnMaria De Mars, Ph.D.

Co-founder & President
7 Generation Games

Dennis De Mars

Co-founder & CTO
7 Generation Games
non-dilutive funding raised, including grant from USDA
$ 0 M
of the team are Latino, Black, Indigenous or people of color
0 %

We’re firm believers that all kids deserve to see themselves in the curriculum that they’re being taught and in the games they play. The vast majority of children don’t get the opportunity to see that.

Maria Burns Ortiz

Co-founder & CEO
7 Generation Games

The Next Level

Following 7 Generation Games’ initial success, their projects expanded in ways they didn’t initially anticipate. “One of the things that happens when you do something and you have data that shows that it works is that other people start asking if you can partner with them to solve other problems,” Burns Ortiz said. The company initiated new projects that were tailored to the communities they were used in.

But 7 Generation Games’ growth encouraged the founders to rethink their mission and vision. They soon realized that they could have an even greater impact on students and their communities by providing not only games, but a full game development platform that can be adapted by users to develop their own customized interactive experiences. The platform, 7 Gen Blocks, is a game development platform that is optimized for instruction and assessment and has been used to create 20 educational tools.

“Our goal was to remove ourselves from making the games and become the company that can empower others to make games,” Burns Ortiz said. The approach allows people who might not have technical expertise in programming to build educational games that represent the communities they inhabit.

Based in Minneapolis and Los Angeles, 7 Generation Games is a team of eight, 90% of whom are Latino, Black, Indigenous or other people of color. More than half of the company are female.

The company has raised more than $2.4 million in non-dilutive funding, including Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.  Larta has worked with the 7 Generation Games team — specifically Burns Ortiz — for many years, helping to craft their commercialization strategy and develop a sustainable business. Larta also invested in a community round in the company through Larta Ventures.

“We’re firm believers that all kids deserve to see themselves in the curriculum that they’re being taught and in the games they play. The vast majority of children don’t get the opportunity to see that,” Burns Ortiz said.

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