Tech Family Scoring Points With Education Games

You can summon an army of cars, rent a room in Dubai, and have the yummiest pancakes brought to your doorstep in minutes all through your smartphone. The hardware currently available, along with the ubiquitus Wifi and millions of apps, makes these truly amazing times.

Liliana Monge – Co-Founder – Sabio

Yes, says Maria Burns Ortiz, we live in amazing times thanks to technology. But for whose benefit?

Convinced technology too often focuses on only helping the so-called “1%,” Ortiz and her family have committed themselves to finding ways technology can truly change the world – for everyone.

Their company, 7 Generation Games, is an effort to use AI and gaming software to try to close the achievement gap in math for students, especially those from rural and underserved communities. Many of those communities, says Ortiz, have been left out of the tech revolution.

The company is currently testing out their innovative gaming/education software at schools around the country, including at a South LA elementary school.

Using video games as a teaching strategy isn’t new. But Ortiz says 7 Generation Games takes an untraditional approach.

Acknowledging that too many education games are boring because they neglect the gaming aspect, 7 Generation Games relies instead on the obsessive nature of the gamer.

“Kids will play a video game over and over and over again to get incrementally better. Even when it’s a game know they’ll never win – they just want to improve their score. Our games continue to challenge the player (student) during the game. As they get better in the game, their math skills get better.”

It’s a unique approach by an admittedly unique tech company.

“We’re a very nontraditional startup,” says Ortiz. “We’re a Latino family business and that’s not common in tech.”

That’s probably because stereotypes don’t allow us to believe a Latina mom and grandma can hold three advanced degrees and even a black belt in Judo and have time to start a tech company. But that’s the family Maria grew up in – the kind that tends to shatter both tech and Latino myths and stereotypes.

“I was used to people discounting my abilities either because I am a woman or a Latina. We want to shift that perspective and we’re very outspoken about that.”

That, says Ortiz, is only part of what she and her family want to accomplish.

And it’s a pretty unique family.

Ortiz is co-founder and CEO of 7 Generation Games. After graduating from NYU, the Southern California native worked at ESPN as a social media columnist and authored a NY Times bestseller. She was an adjunct professor at Emerson College and visiting lecturer at Tufts University on digital integration in sports and media.

Ortiz’s mother, Dr. AnnMaria De Mars, who holds a PhD in Educational Psychology and an MBA, is a founder and president of 7 Generation and is also a programmer. She is also the first American to win a gold medal at the World Judo Championships in 1984. Then there’s Ortiz’ sister – MMA fighter Ronda Rousey who put women’s MMA fighting on the international stage –who is an investor and periodically serves as a game tester at 7 Generation Games.

Ortiz will be sharing more of her stereotype-shattering experience and perspectives at the Cerritos College STEM Syposium next month. On a panel to discuss how technology is transforming our lives, she also hopes to promote more creative uses of technology to bridge all those gaps that continue to keep disadvantaged communities out of the tech mainstream.

“Tech is built upon networks. Who can make the introduction, whose in that network. Our goal is to disrupt that and insert ourselves into those networks.”