John Orth, a teacher in the Manitowoc School District, believes in doing whatever it takes to help students learn. If he has a pet peeve, it is when someone fails to recognize that people learn in different ways.
As a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, he discovered that he had a gift for relating to those in his command. "Everyone is different, and you have to adjust your approach to relate," Orth said. "It's the same with teaching. People learn in distinct ways, and my approach is more individualized to make learning an enjoyable process."
He is now turning that process into a business: Konker Math.
"This program has literally saved lives," he said. "If someone doesn't graduate, they get down on themselves and think they're a loser. I can take them step by step into the next mathematical concept, and they get excited about math. That gives them confidence to do other things."
With multiple degrees, including one in psychology, Orth studied technology and learning styles, and combined color, emotion, humor and fun into a flash-card program that he says is like nothing else available. It focuses on multiplication and division, a foundation that is necessary to future learning. He is developing a similar program to teach decimals and fractions.
"Without learning this, you'll never make sense of the world and how things work," he said. "It goes back to third or fourth grade when the concepts are first taught. And if students don't get it, it could mean a lifetime of struggling and feeling bad about themselves and math in general."
Orth came up with the program when he was working with students in the county jail, and discovered that learning by memorization wasn't working. He started drawing pictures on cards and adding humor. As he noted the effectiveness of the pictures, Orth started looking for patterns in the numbers and put numbers in categories that made sense.
"I found that I could teach almost anyone, and within a few hours, they would learn it permanently," he said.
As he considered the results, Orth began to think about taking it to the next level and turning his program into a business with flash cards, a DVD, instructor's manuals and student workbooks. His target market includes parents of students who are struggling, institutional centers, adult education classes and teachers.
For assistance in establishing the business, Orth met with SCORE counselors Paul Carron and Geoffrey Liban at the Green Bay SCORE branch office at the Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County. They talked about the next steps, which will include a business plan and funding. Forming a nonprofit is a consideration because that would allow Orth to qualify for educational grants.
As he works on the business, he continues to see success in teaching alternative education in Manitowoc. He hopes to get his product on the market before another school year passes.
"The biggest frustration is not having it out there yet," he said. "There is another whole year of kids who will be struggling and feeling bad and this should have been there for them."