Fab Fridays: 2023 in Review + Holiday Goodies
A Year in Review, Fab Holiday Gift Guide, and Synthesis Tutor
How is it December again?
Last year around this time I shared a picture of me wrapping up 2022 next to the Japanese Blueberry tree I planted, holding my newborn baby on one hand, and the manuscript of my first book on the other.
You guys weren't kidding when you said time flies once you have kids…
Here I am, one year later, wrapping up 2023 next to the Japanese Blueberry tree that is now taller than me, holding my 13 month-old ray of sunshine on one hand, and The Learning Game on the other. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for tagging along my journey. The Learning Game became a reality because of you!
And while I haven’t written much in 2023, it’s been a crazy busy year selling my first book, releasing new exciting products at Synthesis (more below!), and raising my baby boy. But before I give you this year’s review and share the inside scoop on the Synthesis Tutor, here is my Fab Holiday Gift Guide with some of my favorite gift ideas for you!
My top 3 parenting/education books of this year: Good Inside by Dr. Becky Kennedy, Raising Critical Thinkers by Julie Bogart, and The Learning Game (hopefully if you are here you are familiar with the author :))
LovEvery’s Play Kits: I’m obsessed with these montessori-inspired toy kits for babies and toddlers because they are simple, developmentally appropriate, and inspire open-ended play. I got the subscription for my son that delivers a new Play Kit every 2 to 3 months and he loves it! (This is NOT a paid partnership, I just really like their product)
A membership to Synthesis Tutor: A fun way for kids to go deep in elementary math with their own personal AI tutor. It’s filled with interactive games and puzzles that uncover BIG ideas and lead kids to achieve true understanding of math. More info below + a 20% discount for Fab readers!
Recap of 2023
During 2023, I had over 60 conversations with wonderful podcast hosts to talk about the future of education, The Learning Game, and so much more. You can find some of my favorite ones here (including 4 episodes in Spanish!)
The Learning Game is currently being translated into Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Indonesian, Arabic, and Portuguese, which is crazy exciting. I look forward to many more translations in 2024!
Last but not least, it has been an incredible year for Synthesis. We launched our most innovative product yet – our digital tutor – and we couldn’t be more excited. The response and feedback from the Synthesis community has been outstanding, and the team continues to work hard to improve the product and bring thousands of kids up to the 99th percentile (literally!) in core subjects. I wanted to take a minute to tell you more about the Synthesis Tutor, and share some reflections on why I think it will revolutionize childhood education.
The Synthesis Tutor
“Math is the beautiful, rich, joyful, playful, surprising, frustrating, humbling, and creative art that speaks to something transcendental.” -James Tanton, PhD
If you’re not absolutely sure that school is broken, just look at how we teach math.
I saw the problems firsthand. My students would ace worksheet after worksheet, but when they’d face a math problem in real life, they would freeze. They had no idea how to apply what they “learned” in class, even those who aced the test. My kids were winning the game of school—and failing the learning game.
As a teacher, you want to give every kid individual attention, but you just don’t have time—and the apps out there are terrible. They focus heavily on rote memorization of formulas and procedures, ignoring the development of conceptual understanding.
Here’s the thing…Mathematics is not just about memorizing steps. It’s about understanding the underlying principles and applying them to solve real-world problems. I would argue that these apps that prioritize memorization hinder students' ability to think critically and apply mathematical concepts in meaningful ways. It also makes math seem like a daunting and boring task.
If we want kids to really learn and enjoy math, we need to rethink math from the ground up.
Instead of memorizing rote facts and instructions, what if kids focused on owning the big ideas of math for themselves? What if instead of worksheets and drills, kids learned those big ideas by playing games with a one-on-one personal tutor?
That’s the idea behind Synthesis Tutor.
First and foremost, Synthesis Tutor focuses on understanding, not memorization. In school, kids learn how to give teachers the answers that the teachers want—that’s the game of school. If you’ve read my book, you know the game of school does not transfer well to the game of life. Real, true, genuine learning happens when a child understands why the right answer is right. That’s the learning game.
A private tutor is one of the best ways to win the learning game because it sees when a child is just parroting facts they don’t understand and frames new problems that push kids to pause and think for themselves.
That’s why, in the 1980s, researcher Benjamin Bloom found that kids who learn with private tutors perform better than 98% of classroom students.
That’s a pretty big deal… It's the difference between community college and the Ivy League!
Sadly, excellent private tutors are hard to find—and extremely expensive. Companies tried to use apps and videos to get similar results, but none of them had the magical ability of a private tutor. None of them could notice when a child was getting the right answer without understanding why math works the way it does.
Then, a secret government agency called DARPA made a groundbreaking discovery. They found a way to make a digital tutor that could identify misunderstandings and guide students to think hard until they truly grasped the core concepts. As a result, students didn’t perform better than 98% of classroom students. With the DARPA digital tutor, they performed better than 99.99%+ of classroom students.
That’s the definition of “off the charts.”
In the world of education, this is like discovering the atom. This would make it possible for any kid with a computer to get the highest quality education imaginable.
The original researchers who created the DARPA digital tutor partnered with Synthesis to bring it to the masses. Synthesis expanded on their research, customized it for kids, and took it even further with modern AI tools. Synthesis is now building out a full-stack online education for kids with Synthesis Tutor, starting first with mathematics.
Here’s a great example of how the tutor works. Notice how it identifies this 9-year-old’s misunderstandings and gently guides him until he figures out the right answer on his own.
The genius behind Synthesis Math Tutor is Dr. James Tanton. He earned his PhD in math from Princeton University and then became a world-renowned math teacher. He is the math teacher I wish I had as a child, and the one I’d love my children to learn from. Tanton has designed the entire curriculum of Synthesis Tutor so that it feels like working one-on-one with him. It’s filled with toys, games, and puzzles that uncover the deep structure of math.
Kids get to play and tinker with all of these fun little activities—and all along the way, their own personal digital tutor (Dr. Tanton in a box!) guides them to see how these explorations reveal the beauty, power, and magic of math.
What happens as a result? Kids not only learn math—they learn to enjoy learning math, something I rarely saw in traditional classrooms. Just listen to this one student…
Right now, kids can dive into over 50 lessons with Synthesis Tutor, covering place value, addition, subtraction, multiplication, the history of numbers, and early fractions, algebra, binary computer code, and complex systems science. And we have new lessons coming out every month :)
I’m convinced that Synthesis Tutor will change the education game—from the game of school to the learning game. For so many kids, math feels boring, dry, and oftentimes, impossible to understand. But with Synthesis Tutor, I feel like there’s hope. There’s hope that kids will see math as “the beautiful, rich, joyful, playful, surprising, frustrating, humbling, and creative art” that it truly is.
For those interested, as a Fab Fridays subscriber, you can get 20% off Synthesis Tutor. That’s $200 off their lifetime plan! The discount also applies to monthly and annual plans. Sign up today and just enter the code “FAB” at checkout.
Thank you for reading and for sticking around this year. I’m excited to revive this newsletter in 2024 and hope you have a wonderful Holiday season!
P.S. I announced a HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY on Instagram this morning for 5 signed copies of The Learning Game! Check out this post to participate :)