December 2, 2015

I’m Mary MANGO, as some of my friends like to call me, and it just occurred to the other day that I am just starting my 6th year of business with May 24, 2010 commemorating my first sale. How did I get here when statistically 90% of all startups fail? I would like to share that story with you but it starts with who I am.

It has taken me many years to be proud of what I do and as I was no confident about math. I am not really what people consider a “math person”. My highest math class in high school was Geometry. I loved the class and did fairly well with B grades but that was as far as I was required to go and I wasn’t encouraged to go beyond that so I didn’t. My ambition in high school was to be a secretary, I thought it looked cool and my high school offered a lot of classes that favored that of skill set; such as typing, office machines and shorthand classes. I went on to college and started expanding my ideas on what I wanted to be and by my junior year determined it to be teaching. I loved the creativity that was allowed to me in educational classes and I loved writing up lessons plans that I thought kids would enjoy. Surprisingly, I was only required to take 2 classes in mathematics in order to graduate with a K – 8 Bachelor of Science degree. One class was finite mathematics and the other teaching elementary mathematics (this was a 2 credit class).

After college graduation I went on to teach for 4 years upper elementary students in 5 and 6th grades. I tried a number of different way to teach math; direct instruction, individualize learning, grouping. Each one had their strengths and weaknesses. After my 4th year of teaching I went on to get a master’s degree in education focusing on curriculum and instruction and getting an endorsement in special education. I taught for a few more years in programs that offered me freedom with curriculum development games and units to get students to learn.

Then I had children and decided to stay home to raise them. I actively volunteered in their schools, helping to create art programs and science programs that teachers didn’t have time to work on. That is when I got involved with a before school math program. My oldest daughter was in 1st grade and I wanted her to love math so I enrolled her in a before school math class that met twice a week. The class was full, I said I would happily volunteer my time and help out so they could allow those on the waiting list in. I fell in love with the class and the students fell in love with math learning. From there some of us parents wanted to expand this love of math to other students in the area but in order to do that we needed a curriculum that we could show to parents and more importantly to funders so that they could support this type of program further. I said I could write the curriculum. We started a nonprofit called Explorations in Math, now called Zeno, and I was their curriculum director. I wrote most of the afterschool curriculum.

With this position I also train teachers on using this curriculum in their afterschool programs. The games and activities were under themes like Exploring Math in Art and Architecture and Exploring History of Numbers. In studying and researching math concepts I learned things about numbers that I was never taught. I start to find it fascinating and started to find connections between numbers and why certain algorithms worked. In the teacher trainings I learned I wasn’t alone. Many teachers didn’t know certain math patterns and strategies and they enjoyed learning it and wanted to pass it along to their students. During these trainings one comment by teachers kept coming up. “I love all this stuff. I just don’t have time to put it all together. Can you just package it up for me?” I thought, yeah, I can do that.

First I had to come up with a name. A friend and I brainstormed and just wrote down everything we could think of relating to math. I started writing down the different math strands, Measurement, Algebra, Number Sense, Geometry, Data & Probability. That gave me a MANG so I changed Data & Probability to Odds and Order and I got my O. MANGO!

It took a couple years of writing to create the different lessons for k – 5. I sent it out to some teacher friends for review. Once place I sent it was a homeschool coop. They looked at it and said, we love it and would like to buy 5 of each grade level. I just hadn’t even imaged. It was mostly a hobby, something I liked to do, I just never imaged them wanting 5 sets. From there I had a little business started, had to think about marketing, websites, bookkeeping, supplies, packaging. Scaling was difficult at first, I had lot of little parts but started to hone it all down into an organized system. I’m good at the organizing and thinking through all the parts, what I wasn’t good at was the marketing. Who else would want to buy MANGO Math and how do I get them to know about it. I lucked out and a gentleman called and asked if he could use my M in his STEM business. I said sure! STEMfinity was my marketing agent. I didn’t have to go through that uncomfortable feeling of telling others why they should buy MANGO Math. I wasn’t confident with what I created so I still had a hard time with putting myself out there. Finally, 5 years and 160 some math lessons later I am finally confident! And I am a math person!