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Parametric Studio is changing STEM education with project-based software and games

This story is part of Clay & Milk's“EdTech In Iowa” series, an exploration of startups, individuals and trends in Iowa’s edtech ecosystem. The series is sponsored by Iowa EdTech Collaborative, a network of internationally-known education companies, successful edtech startups, educators, and economic development leaders working collectively to grow human-centered K-12 and lifelong learning in Iowa.

Parametric Studio, an Ames-based edtech company, is developing project-based STEM games, software, kits and curricula for K-12 students that can be integrated into classrooms and other group activities.

Founded by Chris Whitmer in 2016, the company hopes to improve student STEM outcomes, and interest more students in STEM careers in their formative years.

Shortly after receiving his Ph.D. from Iowa State University, Whitmer worked with a company that developed aerospace software, early-stage design tools, and engineering design tools. Whitmer decided he wanted to take the tools he was developing for the aerospace industry and turn it into software that could be used more broadly.

“We took a lot of those backend tools and generalized them to add more capabilities for other things besides just planes, built in a lot of cool simulators and a lot of support for 3D-printing, laser cutting and all kinds of stuff,” said Whitmer. “And what we ended up with was this back end that does all this great engineering, and a front end that we were able to easily tailor and build out to align with certain grade levels, certain standards, and certain topics.”

In addition to offering software, the company has also developed several different custom-built maker kits that bring hands-on learning directly to students. The STEM-oriented kits engage students in building a variety of devices. Some of the kits include a conveyor belt, a metronome, and a xylophone.

Currently, the company is operating in about 35 school districts nationwide and has been used by over 15,000 students.

In total, the company has received just north of $3.5 million in grant funding, Whitmer told Clay & Milk.

“It [grant funding] has allowed us to steadily grow, build a lot of IP, start figuring out our customers’ needs really really well, and has allowed us the ability to build the core capability that lets us be really flexible and unique,” said Whitmer. “There’s a lot of people that do sort of educational gaming, and even people that do engineering curricula. But we are really unique in the way that we’ve built out our platform in terms of capability.”

One of the company’s most recent grants is from the National Institute of Health that will fund research focusing on early science and medical education.

The project that Parametric Studio will be developing with the grant money is called MiMICRE — a game-based bioengineering project tool for high school students. Using MiMICRE, students will use applied math and science concepts in the design, analysis, and simulation of bioengineering. In MiMICRE, users collaboratively design prosthetics, apply math and science models to evaluate them, and then 3D print and test in the real world. Students will engage with MIMICRE to learn, collaborate, share, and solve real-world problems using technologies like game-based learning, CAD, simulation, 3D printing, programming, and more.

As part of the research and building process, Parametric Studio plans to recruit around 500-600 students from different parts of the country. The plan is to include high school students from geographically diverse, urban and rural areas, with diverse populations. The ultimate goal of the project is to show how these tools can work across a variety of communities.

Looking forward

“We’re getting to a point that’s really interesting now, where we have all these different pathways and some of them are going to be successful, and some of them are not,” said Whitmer. “And so we’ve got different models and different products that are in a very well-developed stage ready to push the button and go and see where we can get traction.”

Whitmer says that in the next year he hopes to see the company’s direct-to-home kits gain a lot of traction and would like to see the tools that the company’s built for middle school and upper elementary become more widely used.

“I would like to see these direct-to-home kits really hit big, where we’re needing to need to bring on more people for manufacturing and curricular development,” said Whitmer. “And I would love to see the more involved tools that we’ve built for middle school and upper elementary, really be widely used. Where, instead of 25 districts, we’re in 200 districts, that would be great growth.”

Whitmer says he also hopes to find partners that will help the company deploy and sell its products and software.

“Because we want to grow and stay lean, I’d like to see us find partners that can help us to deploy this,” said Whitmer. “That’s been a big part of the learning process for us. We’ve learned through going to direct sale that if you want to have 200 school districts adopt your software, then that’s 200 distinct sales that are often you different processes.”

“I’m really excited. We’re finally at a point where the rubber hits the road and get to see all this market research and customer engagement we’ve been doing come to fruition.”

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