A rock band of humans and puppets flying through space in a space van sounds like something Jim Henson might have come up with in his day. Instead, though, that’s the premise of The Digits, an interactive app/video series launched this fall to teach kids aged seven to 12 basic math concepts.
Created by Scotty Iseri (who longtime web video fans ought to remember as Scotty of Scotty Got An Office Job), The Digits features Pavi (Sara Castilleja) and a cast of puppets using music to make math rock. And despite being online only a few months, the project has already received an IAWTV nomination for Best Educational Web Series.
Iseri first began developing Digits two years ago, after winning a fellowship from the Center for Asian American Media, and initially tried to pitch the project to various children’s entertainment entities. After many passed on the project, though, Iseri decided to take a different approach: “I started looking at it as a start-up, as opposed to a media property.”
He thus went out in search of investment, raising money from a wide variety of sources, including friends, family and the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film and Television — making Digits the first new media property to receive state incentives.
The difficulty in pitching, Iseri found, was the fact that Digits was “a thing that doesn’t really exist yet” — in app form, Digits blends video content with number games, encouraging viewer/players to engage directly with the content. (Pavi gets prety stern with you if you don’t play along.)
“I was inspired by watching my nieces and nephews play with their devices, apps like Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street. They expect their stories to play back with them,” he said. “Gamified narrative is how I’d describe it.”
The reason for launching first on Android, Iseri said, was due to the differences in approval processes. “Android allows us to iterate very quickly — we were able to look at reviews and problems and address them quickly,” he said.
In addition, the official Digits YouTube channel is regularly updated with new video content — both new math-related adventures, as well as response videos to viewer questions.
Traffic so far is low, with the channel almost at 6,000 total views, but a recent episode featured a cameo by Huffington Post science correspondent Cara Santa Maria, and plans are in the works for more guest appearances, including Dr. Hannah Critchlow of the BBC’s Naked Scientists.
“I’m trying to find science and math-positive people. I also wanted to find women, because we want to show that it doesn’t matter if you’re an alien or a robot — there’s something really awesome about being smart,” Iseri said.
And it’s at a key time in a child’s life that Digits is trying to spread that message. “There are a lot of apps and educational shows out there for young kids, but not a lot out there for 4th, 5th graders,” Iseri said. “And we’re targeting that age group because that’s when math gets hard — it’s also developmentally when kids decide who they are and what they like. It’s important to me to show that age group that math can be fun and beautiful.”