Seven years ago, when I founded The Julia Group, I submitted a grant proposal to develop an online algebra course.
After 18 years of writing grant proposals for universities, tribal councils and other organizations, I wrote one just for me, for something that was near and dear to my heart.
I know that developing educational technology to reduce disparities in mathematics achievement doesn’t have the sexiest ring to it as a life goal.
Still, the fact is, whether you graduate from high school or not has a great impact on your probability of success in America, by just about any definition.
I believe math is important and performing poorly in math in middle school is where many people start to veer off the path to success, even more often for low-income and minority students.
I said that if it didn’t get funded, I would try again until I eventually got to do this project.
The agency hated my proposal. They gave it a really low score and it didn’t get funded. They said I didn’t have experience developing online courses, nor adequate partnerships with educational institutions.
I tried again with another agency, proposing to develop a bilingual game to teach mathematics to students with special needs, like learning disabilities. This agency hated my proposal, too. They said trying to teach mathematics and English and special education all at once was too much. They said a bunch of other discouraging words. It was not Home on the Range.
I talked to some people I knew at tribal colleges and on reservation school boards and they were convinced that it was important to intervene before algebra, starting with basic mathematics operations and particularly emphasizing fractions.
About the time I found out my proposal wasn’t funded, I took a job at a university where The Perfect Jennifer decided to get a masters and a teaching credential. Since they offered free tuition, I was there for about two years.
I worked on some other proposals to develop online courses for professional development. These did get funded.
If you looked at me in 2011 or s0, you might say I’d given up on the idea, that I’d quit.
In 2012, I submitted a grant to make educational games to teach math. It was funded and we developed the prototype for Spirit Lake: The Game.
In 2013, I submitted two more proposals. One was funded and we built out Spirit Lake to a commercial version, created Fish Lake and, along with help from a Kickstarter campaign, finished the beta version for Forgotten Trail.
In 2014, I submitted another proposal, for a bilingual game. This was funded and the prototype of Aztech Games will be done in about a month.
Someone said to me today that game design is “not about budgets and deadlines”. In a way, it is, though. You need money to pay people to do sound, art, coding, marketing. You can’t do it all yourself, and yes, you can do a kind of cool game with ASCII art, but not that many people are going to be playing it in 2015.
In 2008, when I took that job at the university, you might have thought,
“Oh, she quit. She gave up on her dream.”
Nope. I was always working on it, sometimes in the background, building up skills, experience and partnerships. Sometimes, working on proposals that didn’t seem to go anywhere.
The educational games we do now are a shift from an online high school algebra course, but they are addressing the same needs in a somewhat similar way. Reducing disparities in mathematics achievement is still near and dear to my heart.
Here is a really funny thing – even when I was working full-time doing something else for years, I never got discouraged. I figured I would just keep working and eventually get to where I wanted to be one way or the other.
So, there you have it, Mama AnnMaria’s advice for the night: Quitting doesn’t have to be final.