Mystery Science Snags $2M in Funding to Create Problem Solvers (and...


Mystery Science Snags $2M in Funding to Create Problem Solvers (and Volcano Predictors)

By Jen Curtis     Jun 28, 2017

Mystery Science Snags $2M in Funding to Create Problem Solvers (and Volcano Predictors)

Albert Einstein once said the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. For elementary students, some of most joyous moments can be unraveling mysteries like: ”How can I tell when a volcano is about to explode?”

Thanks to Mystery Science, an inquiry-based K-5 science curriculum, students can get the chance to find out for themselves. The program, accessed online, is designed to help generalist teachers without a background in science teach compelling science lessons by solving “mysteries.” The topics cover everything from the nature of volcanoes to how to track animals in the woods to why the sky is blue. Teachers sign up, select a mystery, and boom: a scripted lesson containing video clues, discussion points, and instructions for simple hands-on activities appears.

The company just announced it has secured $2 million in venture capital, adding Y Combinator (among others) to its lineup of existing investors, alongside Reach Capital and Learn Capital. This is the San Francisco-based company’s second round of funding, adding to the $800,000 it scored back in 2014, and coming on the heels of reaching one million students.

So with all the money and momentum, how do founders Keith Schacht and Doug Peltz want to proceed? They say their original mission remains the same: to make every student curious about science, for life. “The early years are the most important years to develop a curiosity about the world,” Schacht explains. “Elementary school is often a forgotten place but it’s the most critical. When children turns 5-years-old, that’s when they start asking, ‘Why is water falling out of the air?’...We want teachers to encourage that.”

Their focus is not only about the kids, however. According to the duo, K-5 teachers are particularly in need of this type of support because of the nature of their job. “Elementary teachers are generalists,” Schacht says. “This creates a challenge because the first six years of a child’s education, most children have a teacher who’s not an expert on science.” For Peltz, who taught science for seven years and has developed much of Mystery Science’s curriculum (even starring in videos himself), providing user-friendly content is critical. “Studying science daily, in our view, is a unique opportunity we’re afforded in the States,” Peltz explains. “It’s the subject that lends itself best to helping students understand how to solve problems...which is why we’re focusing on helping elementary teachers focus on this content, even if they’re not experts.”

In addition to Peltz’s curriculum, the company is seeking to grow its content team. Already they’ve hired Pat Murphy, who has twenty years’ experience creating content for San Francisco’s Exploratorium, and Amy Schleser, who’s developed award-winning interactive exhibits at Chicago’s Field Museum.

For Sandra Hay, a fifth-grade teacher in Merced, Calif. who has been using Mystery Science since last year, the proof is in the pudding. “When I use science as the cornerstone of my curriculum, the kids are so much more engaged,” she explains. Once or twice a week, she unveils a science lesson and then uses it as a pathways into exploring other subjects and creating interest. “Student then want to do the math; they’re more into the reading,” Hay says. “They’re compelled by the mystery.”

Developing students’ interest across different subjects is exactly what Peltz and Schacht hope to encourage as they continue to develop the product. They already provide standards-aligned materials for English and math, and expect to do more. “Increasingly, we’re being asked to incorporate this mindset throughout the school day,” Peltz explains. “We want to do that while keeping the mission the same.”

Just how the structure of their product will change, however, for now remains a mystery. We expect Einstein would be tickled.

Disclosure: Reach Capital and Learn Capital are also investors in EdSurge

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