Po-Shen Loh claims that his company, Expii, has the best live video math classes in the world! This professor of mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University and national coach of the United States International Math Olympiad team has more than just bombastic confidence to back his claim.
Headquartered in the heart of Oakland, Expii is an online learning platform that offers diverse and unique methods to learn about math and science.
Loh believes that Expii has cracked the code on how to engage students truly and wholly during online lessons. This is achieved with the help of video chat technology and embracing a conversational, almost talk-show style of communication.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators around the world shifted from in-person learning to live video, mostly using Zoom.
“But Zoom was not made to teach,” Loh notes.
Indeed, teachers often struggled with running Zoom classes while their students struggled to pay attention. The virtual lecture format was not engaging, and teachers would often close the public chat option in Zoom because students would use it more for trolling then asking questions. More poop emojis may have been shared than talking points back then, but Loh sees great value in an in-class open chat – if it’s done right.
“How do middle school students prefer to engage with content these days? Live streams with a public chat function that they can use.”
Expii’s math classes are designed to look much like students’ favorite YouTuber or Twitch streamer’s setup. The classes are full screen (no distracting lineup of Brady Bunch heads), with dark backdrops and softbox lighting. And of course, the live chat.
Loh states that Expii’s goal is to teach people how to think about math. One of the best ways to do this, Loh explains, is to encourage students to brainstorm each problem and talk it out, but it can be hard to teach this way in a more traditional class environment. But through open chat and a conversational style between the educators and students, Expii’s live streams make this easier.
The educators are chosen for similar reasons as the classes’ format and lighting – they’re all high school students, making it easier for the middle schoolers to relate to them.
Expii educators are not much older than the middle schoolers they are instructing – they are a nationwide network of some of the best high school math students in the country. Their main requirements are that they must be “genuinely nice,” good at math, and understand the importance of communication. Loh not only sees these teens are potential educators, but also as future social entrepreneurs.
“These are high school kids who are great at math, but still honing their communication skills. They haven’t learned how to captivate an audience yet,” Loh said.
These young educators are trained to speak to students in a unique way – through the tutelage of improv professionals, comedians, and actors. Loh tapped into CMU’s College of Fine Arts, alongwith Pittsburgh and Baltimore-based improv theaters and found a trove of artists with the knowledge and ability to coach on communication skills.
Their first lesson before teaching any math classes is an improv class. The educators do this as a group, allowing them to bond and network with each other as well.
Later, when they are live-streaming, their coaching continues with one of these professionals discreetly giving them speaking advice as they teach. Everyone is gaining knowledge in the process, and Loh considers this a win-win situation for everyone involved.